Very rarely have I savoured something so breathlessly. Even now, as I write this and remember the images and sounds, I get goosebumps. Dutch National Opera has made a virtue out of necessity and has shown great courage with the extraordinary production Faust [working title] – with music by Brahms, Boulanger, Schubert, Mahler, Handel, Viviers and Berlioz, among others. The result is overwhelming and points the way into the future!

<i>Faust [working title]</i> © Michel Schnater | DNO
Faust [working title]
© Michel Schnater | DNO

Instead of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistole, which was supposed to open the new season in Amsterdam, Lisenka Heijboer Castañón was commissioned to create an alternative, adaptable production out of thin air in June. She asked the composer, theatre maker and conductor Manoj Kamps to conceive the performance together with her and by the end of the process, there were only three scenes left of Boito's adaptation of Goethe's Faust: the Prologue, Witches’ Sabbath and Margherita's aria at the beginning of the third act. “L'altra notte” forms one of the key scenes in the resulting opera spectacular Faust [working title].

<i>Faust [working title]</i> © Michel Schnater | DNO
Faust [working title]
© Michel Schnater | DNO

Olga Busuioc as Margherita sang about the plight of a person in a hopeless situation with touching intrusion. The young Goethe had witnessed the criminal trial of a 24-year-old sentenced to death in Frankfurt in 1771 and had processed these experiences in his Faust. “My stricken spirit flies like a sparrow from the woodland,” Busuioc sings while her hands mimic a bird with simple gestures. The incredible grief of the middle-class girl, who drowns her own child in order to escape social condemnation, is given a somewhat liberating lightness by this symbol. Heijboer Castañón returns to this theme of despair and rapture with Bruno Coulais' lullaby Cerf-volant to which children of the Nieuw Amsterdam Kinderkoor slip down an oversized slide on stage, first cautiously, but increasingly exuberantly over time, resembling individual tears flowing.

<i>Faust [working title]</i> © Michel Schnater | DNO
Faust [working title]
© Michel Schnater | DNO

Children play a central role in this conception. They are currently the only ones who are allowed to move freely on stage in direct contact with each other without a mask. But they are not restricted to the background. On the opening theme ("Futures"), a girl talks about her jazz studies, and in the following section ("Dreams") a Turkish girl gets the chance to speak up. The current theme "Masks" quotes the 1895 poem We Wear the Mask by African-American Paul Laurence Dunbar.

<i>Faust [working title]</i> © Michel Schnater | DNO
Faust [working title]
© Michel Schnater | DNO

Musically, Lonely Child by Claude Vivier, becomes another climax. The Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest, which had been in the pit for the first time since March, played with a powerful sound. Individual musicians were placed on and behind the stage. Half of the chorus was singing from the top of the second tier, transforming the auditorium into a second sound stage.

The set design by Janne Sterke and Hendrik Walther consists of material from previous opera productions. This way of recycling has pep! At the beginning of the performance, all the decorations are veiled on an otherwise naked and completely open stage to the rear. The stage sky is filled with black spotlights. Little by little the light (Hendrik Walther) gets warmer. Again and again a door opens (at times deliberately) and insights into new worlds open up. Joy Boy by Julius Eastman is a unique yet strange composition. This music shimmers and floats. Different voices and instrument colours merge into a sound carpet that seamlessly transitions into the epilogue, an electronic sound installation by Akim Moiseenkov in collaboration with the soloists Polly Leech and Martin Mkhize, among others.

<i>Faust [working title]</i> © Michel Schnater | DNO
Faust [working title]
© Michel Schnater | DNO

The combination of well-known and rearranged opera, folk and film music creates an overarching art form that aims to connect with an audience of all ages, amplified by Heijboer Castañón and Kamps’ decision to include recordings during the performance. Four Ethers by Josiah Wise, aka Serpentwithfeet, combines Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique with coarse lyrics, creating an exciting symbiosis of classical music and current reality.

Faust [working title] is an important contribution to the renewal of the genre of musical theatre: away from the museum right into the middle of social actuality.


Translated into English by Elisabeth Schwarz

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