Amsterdam’s Opera Forward festival deals with grief and loss
These are turbulent times in the art world of Amsterdam. The city’s Hermitage (more of a marketing franchise than a museum) has announced that it has severed all ties with its parent company in St Petersburg. The Netherlands Opera’s main sponsor, the law firm Houthoff, said – just after an eviscerating expose in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant – that it would cut all ties with its Russian government clients. The opera company must have breathed a sigh of relief.
In light of all this, the theme for the new beginning of the Opera Forward Festival 2022 takes on a bitter note of irony. In fact, in this year’s two biggest new works, grief and loss seem more dominant than any sense of new beginnings.
I always missed you is a work by a collective of five composers and five writers. A diverse cast of performers present individual tales of loss and memory, performed in showy costumes and surreal masks on the floor of the Amsterdam International Theater, with the audience seated at the sides, on the balconies and on the stage .
Director Lisenka Heijboer Castañón and conductor Manoj Kamps create a coherent whole from these disparate tales. Each collective creation is faced with dramaturgical challenges – whose stories are cut for form? If you err on the side of inclusion, you might end up with something long and shapeless. Although this happens with I always missed youthe work impresses with its refinement, professionalism, strong performances and poignant moments.
Dwarfs, a production by Belgian director Gregory Caers with students from Rotterdam’s MBO Theater School, is billed as “an answer to opera”, although it is more of a physical theater with roots in dance than anything else. A powerful physical performance, in which youngsters move at increasing speed through space, it addresses issues of social constraints and the disruptive force of a decision to go against the grain in a high-risk, 45-minute high octane number.
The most sumptuous first main stage of the festival, Eurydice — Die Liebenden, Blind, also deals more with endings than beginnings. Composer Manfred Trojahn wrote the libretto himself. The two-hour work explores philosophical notions of past loves, lost loves, and loves that make impossible demands. There is a passage in Wagner Tristan and Isolda where the two lovers become so enmeshed in their own thoughts that they spend a long time debating the use of the word “and”. It looks a bit like this.
The score is beautifully crafted and steeped in tradition, with obvious nods to Debussy. In the title role, Julia Kleiter sings with exquisite clarity and musicality; Andrè Schuen is just as impressive as Orpheus. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra performs well under the direction of Erik Nielsen. Pierre Audi’s production places the action in dreamlike versions of the story’s train and ship, finding ritual and symbolism in the vague narrative. The piece reads like a high-end commission, carried out with professionalism, but not motivated by the thirst to tell a particular story; in the end, you still don’t know what it was about.
Perhaps today’s reality is a bit too brutal for art. We will need time and peaceful resolutions before we can begin to process the culture of today with the wisdom of tomorrow.