Are there many opera houses that do not programme any Verdi, Donizetti or Bellini for an entire season? The new season of the Dutch National Opera was recently presented: a big blow in the face of the opera lover. It is the penultimate season programmed by Pierre Audi, who has been glued to the Amsterdam plush for 30 years. Lovers of belcanto and verismo are already taking a massive run on opera tickets in Belgium and Germany. A programme without Bellini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Cilea, Verdi, Donizetti, Giordano and more of these ‘second-rate’ composers. Puccini gets dragged through the mud with a 16-year-old production of a dreadful Butterfly by Wilson: by far the greatest insult to Puccini and Puccini lovers ever. There is also the 3017th Barbiere di Seviglia and a staged Juditha Triumphans by Vivaldi. Wagner and Mozart are programmed blindly every season, like the six-year-old Die Zauberflöte by Simon McBurney, for the umpteenth time. There is a Tannhaüser under the direction of Christoph Loy, who is known to be very unpredictable. The new productions: Jenůfa of Janáček is directed by the deplorable Katie Mitchell. When will we get rid of her?
Furthermore, Oedipe by Enescu, is unfortunately brought to us by La Fura dels Baus. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is the only production that most opera lovers can look forward too. Then there are also some unadulterated ‘who cares’ productions, such as Fin de Partie by György Kurtág, Caruso a Cuba by Micha Hamels and Girls of the Golden West by John Adams. It seems that there has been a significant cut in the run-up to the costly Wahnsinns-Projekt Aus Licht by Stockhausen, which can be enjoyed for just 315 (three hundred and fifteen) Euros per person.
The Audi era is coming to an end, and one will probably at times look back and reconsider the “achievements” of his 30-year-old autocratic rule. Once, there was an opera tradition in Amsterdam. Opera was a folk art and as such experienced heyday in the Amsterdam Carré (before the war) and the Stadsschouwburg. With the advent of Het Muziektheater (The Music Theatre) in 1986, people have failed to make use of this opera tradition that was right in front of them. They have tried to put DNO ‘internationally on the map’ or, in other words: to buy themselves into the international jet set. This attracted a completely different audience, the so-called ‘Modern theatre audience’, which, like Pierre Audi when he was appointed, didn’t understand a thing about opera, and slavishly swallowed the director’s humbug to come across as modern, ground-breaking, surprising, confrontational etc. etc. The old and faithful audience disappointedly turned away; they had never heard of a ‘concept’ and what they did see of it, certainly didn’t leave them longing for more.
Once, the justified question “Where have the Italian operas gone” was dismissed with the remark that there was no such thing because there was a German chief conductor at the helm. Idiots!
The 2018-2019 season is, as mentioned above but not loudly, entirely dominated by Stockhausen’s very costly Aus Licht, which no opera lover – and no sensible person – has asked for but for which he has to pay 315 Euros per seat. This is completely insane. The run-up to Aus Licht, so to speak the supporting programme, is a mess, with a few nice parts in between, but also manages to come up with the umpteenth Barber and a worn out anti-Puccini production. No Verdi, no Donizetti, no Bellini: it remains difficult to comprehend. And of course, no verismo, because there are enthusiasts for that, and we can’t have that.
The 2018-2019 season is no less than a total disgrace and once again turns away from the opera essentials. This is how a whole generation of opera visitors are cultivated who have never attended a libretto-reliant performance, who have no idea of an opera stream like verismo and who visit the opera as a periodic obligation to keep the cultural-modern I up to date. We pay a high price for 30 years of international snobbery and incompetence.
Olivier Keegel (Published on 22/2/2018)