© MichielverbeekNL | Wikicommons
© MichielverbeekNL | Wikicommons
Dutch National Opera notches up its half century this year. The company previously known as De Nederlandse Opera was originally established as a repertory company in 1965 and has grown into a leading opera company on the international stage. Yet despite reaching its 50th anniversary, it is still in many ways a young company, with vibrant ideas and challenging productions to help renew the artform and encourage new audiences for tomorrow.

<i>Benvenuto Cellini</i> © Clärchen&Matthias Baus
Benvenuto Cellini
© Clärchen&Matthias Baus
The Dutch National Opera and Ballet, located in the centre of Amsterdam, seats 1600 and boasts a 20 metre wide stage which makes it ideal for forging co-productions with other large European houses. This season, for example, opens with a new production of Verdi’s Il trovatore staged by Àlex Ollé and his team from La Fura dels Baus, which then turns up at the Opéra de Paris next January. DNO’s recent La bohème and Die Zauberflöte are shared with English National Opera – as is Terry Gilliam’s sparkling Benvenuto Cellini – while Robert Carsen’s spare, but effective staging of Poulenc’s Dialogues des carmélites has been staged at The Royal Opera and the Canadian Opera Company.

Carsen returns to DNO this season for a revival of Carmélites, but he has also been invited by Artistic Director Pierre Audi to stage the black tie 50th birthday gala in November. The surprise programme is being kept under wraps, but will be sure to draw on the company’s rich history.

Pierre Audi, whose famed production of Wagner’s Ring cycle received its final outing in 2014, will himself direct Louis Andriessen’s Theatre of the World at the Royal Theatre Carré. This multimedia opera/instrumental work is inspired by the life of Renaissance man, Athanasius Kircher who was among other things, an Egyptologist, mathematician, physicist, volcanologist and composer. One of his tasks, as a Jesuit, was “to seek God’s presence in everything”; Andriessen has Kircher travelling through time and space, in the company of a mysterious 12-year-old, who may just be the devil himself. Performed in seven languages, Audi’s production sees him unite with stop-motion animators The Quay Brothers, Asko|Schönberg and Reinbert de Leeuw.

More contemporary fare comes from Kaija Saariaho, whose short Noh-inspired operas Always Strong and Feather Mantle are combined by director Peter Sellars to create Only the Sound Remains. Star French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky takes the lead role in both works in his DNO debut.

<i>Faust</i> © Ruth Walz
© Ruth Walz
There can’t be many opera companies in the world where the majority of productions in the season are new (or new to the House). Following his terrific La Fura del Baus production of Faust for DNO in 2014, Àlex Ollé returns this October for Verdi’s Il trovatore. Notoriously difficult to cast – Enrico Caruso once quipped that “all it takes for successful performance of Il trovatore is the four greatest singers in the world” – Trovatore is also a minefield to direct. The opera’s plot relies on a lot of complicated backstory involving witchcraft and baby-snatching, and the resulting search for vengeance is tied in with a love triangle. We’ll soon learn what Ollé makes of the plot, but my prediction is that the production could be spectacular. A fine cast has been assembled too. Carmen Giannattasio is one of today’s rising stars, having perviously been heard in Amsterdam in Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims. Her creamy soprano should be the perfect fit for Leonora, in love with the mysterious troubadour Manrico, but also arousing the attentions of the Count di Luna (who turns out to be – plot spoiler! – Manrico’s brother). Young Italians Francesco Meli and Simone Piazzola both make their DNO debuts as the warring brothers.

Like Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky’s sprawling epic Khovanshchina (The Khovansky Affair) is based on Russian history. DNO’s new production is directed by Christof Loy and used Shostakovich’s completion of the opera. Anita Rachvelishvili makes her DNO debut in the role of Marfa. Khovanshchina is a huge opera for the chorus and provides the Chorus of DNO with ample opportunity to display its talents.

© Petrovsky & Ramone
© Petrovsky & Ramone
Combining opera and ballet, Sasha Waltz directs Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette in a production where the forces of Dutch National Opera and Dutch National Ballet share the stage as equals for the first time. Inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy, Berlioz doesn’t present a straightforward narrative through text in his symphonie dramatique. Waltz, whose production was presented at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper earlier this year, uses choreography to tell the story.

Claus Guth’s production of Don Giovanni, previously seen at the Salzburg Festival and the Berlin Staatsoper, makes its Dutch debut, with British baritone Christopher Maltman as the man the ladies find hard to resist.

Along with the new Trovatore, my top pick for the new season has to be Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) in a new production by Stefan Herheim with Mariss Jansons conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Based on a short story by Pushkin, the opera concerns one man’s obsession to find the secret of the “three cards” that will ensure gambling success. Herman is even prepared to cast aside his love for Lisa to discover the secret. Herheim, at the helm for a controversial production of another Tchaikovsky masterpiece (Eugene Onegin), will almost certainly drag the opera forward from its 18th century setting. A fine Russian cast – led by Misha Didyk’s Herman – is conducted by Mariss Jansons, one of the finest interpreters of Tchaikovsky’s music in the world.

It’s clear that under Pierre Audi’s leadership, Dutch National Opera is about to deliver an exciting new season.


Article sponsored by Dutch National Opera