Holland shows the Met how to run an opera

Holland shows the Met how to run an opera


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2018

Next season at the Met features just four new productions. 

They can’t fit more, apparently, into a drary schedule.

Dutch National Opera has announced its new season.

Twelve new operas.

Including a Stockhausen medley, Kurtag’s forthcoming opera, Donnacha Dennehy’s opera on the life of Gesualdo, the John Adams Golden West reboot, and Enesco’s immortal Oedpie.

Now that’s what we call an opera season.



  • Mike Schachter says:

    Indeed. I wondered if anyone would write an opera about Gesualdo, though reality far exceeds and dramatic fiction.

    • Bill says:

      Alas, The Second Violinist is not about the life of Gesualdo. It is, however, a remarkable masterpiece that takes a Gesualdo musical fragment and spins it out into a very contemporary multi-media 75-minute thrill ride. Saw it in Dublin this year – absolutely brilliant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhpaRgTc3Rw

      • Mike Schachter says:

        Thank you!

      • John Borstlap says:

        The usual contemporary fare which reflects the gutter of modern times – to rub it in? to provoke betterment? – or invite protest, so that producers and critics can hail it as a master piece? We have seen all of it already many, many years ago, it’s all conventional ‘Grand Macabre’ of the last century.

    • Nik says:

      There is one by Schnittke.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      Schnittke wrote a Gesualdo opera. Sciarrino’s Luci mie traditrici (also titled Killing Flower in some productions) is also loosely based on the Gesualdo murder story.

  • Peter says:

    Enescu’s immortal Oedpie !


  • collin says:

    Stop comparing European opera houses to the Met.

    Only 5 of NATO’s 28 member countries met the alliance goal of spending at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.

    Netherlands: 1.7%

    When Russia invades Europe, we Americans will sacrifice ourselves once again to save you.

    In the meantime, enjoy your state subsidized operas and your 12 new productions.

    • R. Brite says:

      Oh, bravo, Collin. I was going to leave a mild comment pointing out that European houses are usually subsidised, but you have managed to make the same point in a much more unpleasant fashion and politicise it as well, as truly befits the usual tone of this forum. Well done, you.

      I invite you to stay in my guest room when you come over to save our sorry European arses. I mean, I assume you’ll be on your own, since the way things are going I expect the invasion to be carried out by a US-Russian coalition.

    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      Oh bollocks!

    • Frederick West says:

      Oh boy, I’ll rest and sleep a lot safer now. Would that be sacrifice in the sense of Vietnam or Afghanistan? Can’t wait for the cavalry to come and mess things up all over again. Sweet dreams.

      • Mark says:

        Show some gratitude, eurotrash.
        It was the US that liberated you from the Nazis and then kept you safe for decades.
        Enjoy the Muslim “refugees” – this time you are on your own. Lights out !

  • Fred says:

    this is ridiculous, the Dutch season is the worst season ever, audience poison (except two) if there ever was one

    • John Borstlap says:

      Don’t forget Holland is, in W-Europe, the most progressive country in the search to demolish culture and to pander to the rise of populism, so it correctly reflects what is going-on outside the building – apart from Enescu’s Oedipe which is a truly impressive work and the one which thus stands-out as the odd choice in the context of the other ‘new works’.

      As for Dennehy: this will give an impression of his aesthetic, which seems perfectly suited to the Dutch:


  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Oh dear. This sadly now rather pathetic campaign against the MET, or more specifically it’s management, shows a wilful desire to misunderstand the dynamics of running two totally different organisations. It is fair to say that the funding base of the Dutch company allows it far more opportunities to be experimental and to in fact fail than does the MET. If European Opera houses in general were stripped of their subsidy how many would stay the course, let alone mount operas that can play to less than full houses because they have access to monies not available to American houses? The MET has it’s problems but still manages to produce interesting work by the standards of the main houses across the world. The Dutch operate at a different level and maybe NL should look a bit closer to home, say ENO, WNO both of which are producing programmes that a few seasons ago would have been unimaginable, due in no small part to the cut back in their subsidy and a falling off of their audience. Maybe when ROH announce their 2018/19 season NL would like to compare it with the dutch for I’m absolutely confident that theirs will be every bit as dreary as the MET’s or maybe might have some must see operas amongst the dross, again like the MET, or Paris, Vienna, Munich, Berlin or even Amsterdam.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed state subsidies offer ample opportunity to produce nonsense. But that was never the intention, which was to liberate opera companies and orchestras from commercial pressures. To combine both artistic sophistication AND audience appeal is, in the current politicized cultural climate, almost impossible. State subsidies require ‘progressive’ staging and programming to satisfy the funding bureacrats and the critics who had their education in the ‘progressive’ climate of the last century, while mainly programming repertoire works as they are is seen, by these same bureacrats, as bourgeois and cementing a museum culture (= no longer relevant to our times). So, old works have to be ‘touched-up’ by Regietheater and any new work is supposed to be ‘progressive’ and to ‘reflect our own time’, in an effort to break-down the museum culture and the backward, bourgeois mentality of the audience. When they stay away, having their fill with ‘shit sandwiches’ and ‘audience poison’, they can be condemned as being reactionary from the windows of Grand Hotel State Subsidy.

      It is to be hoped that new generations of staff will see that there are other options apart from ‘commercial, stale oldies’ and ‘audience-hostile, macabre newies’. An interesting example of imaginative programming was, last year at the Amsterdam opera, the staging of Schönberg’s Gurrelieder a couple of years ago, which was never thought of as an opera but which appears to work very well as a fantastic, surrealistic dreamscape carried by over-the-top late-romantic music (being an early work). Pierre Audi, not known for much insight into contemporary music problems, had a very lucky strike with this idea. It was an audience success and even the critics hailed it as something really good. Why? Because it was new in terms of production but the music was ‘oldfashioned’, very good, expressive and lyrical – in short: operatic. It was safe on all sides: both new and the old was also ‘new’ in the sense of never heard in the opera theatre, and by Schönberg who is considered the arch father of modernism.


      • david alden says:

        “Pierre Audi, not known for much insight into contemporary music problems…”? What??? Dutch National Opera under Audi has done amazingly well by new operas, revival of difficult avant garde works, commissions, etc. over the last decades. The Dutch have been brilliantly challenged, enlightened, shocked and educated and the art form has flourished in lucky Amsterdam.

        • John Borstlap says:

          But that is exactly what I mean: for new works, the ones that carried the banner of progressivenes were chosen, and their ‘shock value’ considered ‘necessary educational instruction’ for a ‘dumb bourgeois audience’. The incredible stupidity, arrogance and ignorance of such patronizing and destructive policy (cushened by subsidies) is breathtaking – but of course, well-suited to ‘cultural elites’ in Holland who chase down any remnant of ‘old, sentimental tradition’ and thus, artistic standards.

          Mind you, in the arts, the notion of ‘progress’ is nonsensical. The only progress in the arts is improvement, and that can be anything, including excellent productions of repertoire works which have stood the test of time and which offer ample space for new interpretation without the need to interfere with the work itself and change its nature. As for new works, if they can combine the new and the personal with using a tested and tried musical language, that would be true progress, understood in terms of quality.

          The only process of progressiveness in the arts is the accumulation of available means both in terms of technique and materials, and accessibility of the achievements of the past. The rest is noise.

  • Basia Jaworski says:

    well….. it’s not only gold what you see! :-) 
    Not everything is really new and the Kurtag, Adams and Dennehy (ánd Micha Hamel) are in the ´OFF- program’.
    Besides: don’t forget that our opera is richly sponsored by the government and more!

    My view at the season (later today there will be also an English translation so stay tuned 🙂 )


  • Basia Jaworski says:

    And the season of our Reisopera (Travel Opera) is short but very, very fine 🙂


  • Tiredofitall says:

    So, more is necessarily better? More, sometimes, is just more. I thought only Americans had an obsession with quantity.

    I’m no fan of the Peter Gelb regime, but his (the board’s) decision to limit the number of new productions for next season is finally a (small) step toward reigning in the hemorrhaging. The excuse of the enormity of re-staging the LePage Ring, while daunting, saves face for Gelb and his curtailed ambitions in favor of some attempt at fiscal responsibility.

  • MacroV says:

    IMHO the emphasis on new productions of old operas is rather misplaced. It’s still the same music and, at the MET, the same great orchestra. It would be nice to see a few new – or at least new to the MET – works, including a long-overdue St. Francois d’Assise. And they’re doing one of their glorious old productions that should never be replaced: Dialogues of the Carmelites in the immortal John Dexter production (at least I assume that’s not one of the four new productions).

    • MWnyc says:

      Yes, the Met’s Dialogues is in the Dexter staging. (Although I wouldn’t mind seeing the Robert Carsen staging that Lyric Opera of Chicago did about a decade ago.)

      As you may know, Saint-François d’Assise was a centerpiece of the first season that Gerard Mortier had planned for New York City Opera back when.

      More recently (also as you may know), the Met had planned to stage it, and had done the principal casting, only to shelve it because of the expense and box-office risk. But the company didn’t want to spend the money to buy out the contracted singers, so it used them in the replacement production – which is how the marvelous Eric Owens ended up badly miscast in L’Amour de loin, in a role written for the very different Gerald Finley.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Messiaen’s St Franciscus is a big pretentious flop, which cannot be saved with whatever production style. It is over-long, the music is totally incapable of expression or lyricism – i.e. offering the singers something which they can do well – and the plot is staggeringly sentimental in its pathological religiousness. The whole thing is a static hell of misconception, sprinkled with Messiaenic pretention and clichées…. I know M’s work well, and admire a number of his works, and out of respect and curiosity, I once masochistically forced myself to be exposed to the whole thing till the end – but had to give-up at ca. halftime, because of physical symptoms of disgust. I’m sure if there exists a Roman Catholic hell, they play this piece continuously for the sinners, and since Messiaen has presumably done nothing to deserve such punishment, he will have to contend himself at a better place with the satisfaction to have contributed to the catholic faith.

      • Stuart says:

        Totally agree! I love plenty of Messiaen, but this opera is painfully boring.

      • msc says:

        I totally disagree: it’s a beautiful, powerful, emotional work. I have never seen it live (of course!), but have sat almost transfixed through numerous performances both on c.d. and the radio. I prefer Parsifal, but they are both in the same league as to how great music can transcend a lack of action on the stage.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I totally disagree with your total disagreement. The difference between Parsifal and Franciscus is abyssmal. Parsifal is very slow but it still moves, with the slow wing-beat of dying swans. It is lyrical, profound (apart from a couple of the usual Wagnerian lapses), and immensily expressive, and gives the singers everything with which they can shine, while the orchestra is a pinnacle of classical sophistication, synthesising a wide range of idioms (from archaic triads to expressionistic chromaticism). Franciscus has nothing of all of this, because it has an entirely different idiom, product of a poor time and an aesthetic which is not suited to the theatre at all. Comparing the two works is like comparing a religious Titian or El Greco painting with the distasteful junk sold at religious markets in Latin America.

  • Fred says:

    Audi is the WORST thing which ever happened to opera in the Netherlands…it IS a poisnous season, and afa Messiaen is concerned. I remember José van Dam making much fun of it, and i was rolling on the floor with laughter…except why didn’t he have the courage to say nbo to the piece? That still bothers me.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Singers are afraid to say ‘no’ because they may get a little cross in red ink behind their name on the list, and won’t be asked at another occasion: ‘No, not him / her, he / she is too difficult.’ And you feel these things in your wallet.

  • Mitzouko says:

    Love Oedipe. Saw it a few times in Berlin, at the Deutsche Oper, the old Vienna production, Lawrence Foster conducting. Ioan Holender came to the premiere. Liked the staging and of course, the music, a great opera by a great composer. Wonder why it is not produced more often.
    One of the best thingsI love in SD are the comments, and tonight John Borstlap’s ” Catholic Hell” was delicious, so much esprit. Thank you.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Oedipe was premiered in Paris in 1936 but written much earlier, in the twenties. Its idiom is rather different from the customary styles of the times, which in France were mostly neoclassical (Groupe des Six, Stravinsky). Enescu’s opera gives, in comparison, the impression of some outdated fin-de-siècle ‘dragon’, and with WW II and the following infestation of modernist ideologies, the work was seen as ‘irrelevant’.

      On his Parisian deathbed he got very worried about the course of new music taken after the war, and he kept telling his visitors: ‘Tell them that atonal music will be the death of music…. tell them, let them reconsider’. Obviously this was directed at the then upcoming Leibowitz, Shaeffer, Boulez, Barraqué et al. And it was not as yet as virulent as it was to become.


  • Cyril Blair says:

    Is Oedpie sweet, or savory?

  • Tom says:

    That’s great that they are doing new works that no-one wants to actually see…..I’m sure the Dennehy’s Gesualdo opera would sell out in minutes at the MET. And yes, the Dutch opera house is subsidized so it can put up garbage productions. Hence the reason it is called Euro-trash in the states.