How to build on success? Last season was a great one for Dutch National Opera, which celebrated its 50th season with a string of accolades, not least being crowned ‘Opera Company of the Year’ at the International Opera Awards. The jewel in the crown came with Stefan Herheim’s superb new staging of Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) which romped home in the Bachtrack Opera Awards ‘Best Production’ category. Pierre Audi, who has led the company for 28 years, has put together another tempting season, once again attracting some of the world’s great singers and directors to Amsterdam.  

Dutch National Opera © Mark Pullinger (June 2016)
Dutch National Opera
© Mark Pullinger (June 2016)

Among the new productions to attract the eye is Andrea Breth’s staging of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, which is set to feature flashback techniques as Manon, dying in the American desert, looks back on her life. Eva-Maria Westbroek, one of the Netherlands’ favourite sopranos, stars as the flighty Manon.

Westbroek also features in another new production. Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is as disturbing as opera gets. Watching Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck affected the composer deeply. The tale of a simple soldier socially exploited made even more of an impact after Berg’s experiences serving in the First World War. Polish theatre director Krzysztof Warlikowski is known for his cutting edge opera stagings, so his approach to this brutal tale should be fascinating. Christopher Maltman, one of Britain’s leading baritones, tackles the harrowing title role, with Westbroek singing his wife, Marie.

Damiano Michieletto is another of Europe’s controversial opera directors. His Guillame Tell caused outrage at Covent Garden, followed up by a stupendous production of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci. In Amsterdam, he presents a new Rigoletto, Verdi’s opera about the tragic humpbacked jester, based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse. Don’t expect a production set in 16th-century Mantua. Michieletto favours starkly lit contemporary productions. Baritone Luca Salsi’s “Shakespearean care for text and delivery” impressed in a recent London La traviata, so he should be well suited to Verdi’s jester who seeks bitter revenge for the abduction and rape of his daughter. Lisette Oropesa sings Gilda and Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu is the licentious Duke.

Dmitri Tcherniakov's production of <i>Prince Igor</i> © Cory Weaver | Metropolitan Opera
Dmitri Tcherniakov's production of Prince Igor
© Cory Weaver | Metropolitan Opera
New to Amsterdam is Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production of Borodin’s Prince Igor, which mainly hit the headlines in New York for the $169,000 spent by The Metropolitan Opera on a poppy field for the central act. This argument overshadowed what is a very fine production, in which the director – another who loves changing the setting – rearranges some of the opera’s scenes, tweaks the plot so it all happens in Igor’s mind, and inserts music from another work. As Borodin died leaving the score to Prince Igor incomplete – Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov stitched together a performing edition – perhaps the director is allowed some licence. Ildar Abdrazakov, who starred as Igor at the Met, leads a strong ensemble at DNO.

March 2017 sees the world première of The New Prince. This, however, is no children’s fairy tale. The title is a reference to Niccolò Machiavelli’s devilish The Prince. In Mohammed Fairouz’s opera, to a libretto by David Ignatius, Machiavelli wakes up to discover the year is 2032 and he has been commissioned to write an updated version of his masterpiece. He doesn’t have to look too far to find examples among the recent political past! Nathan Gunn leads the cast as Machiavelli himself.

Pierre Audi creates his own interpretation of Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers, woven into an installation by the Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruycker in Amsterdam’s Gashouder, a remarkable circular space with pillarless interiors. There is no narrative as such, but rather what Audi calls a “mise-en-espace”. Raphaël Pichon and his Baroque ensemble Pygmalion make their DNO debuts in this creative response to Monteverdi’s music.

Among the Dutch National Ballet highlights for the 2016-17 season are two ‘Made in Amsterdam’ programmes, recent works choreographed for the company, including three world premières by David Dawson, Juanjo Arques and Ernst Meisner.  

<i>Apollon musagète</i> © Angela Sterling (2016)
Apollon musagète
© Angela Sterling (2016)
June sees Alexei Ratmansky’s three Shostakovich-based ballets presented together for the first time in Europe. Shostakovich, Ratmansky’s favourite Russian composer, suffered terribly under the Soviet regime and these three works – Symphony no. 9, Chamber Symphony and Concerto DSCH – see the celebrated choreographer, Bolshoi-trained, New York-based, explore his relationship with his country’s past.  

Since the 1950s, Dutch National Ballet has been important in presenting the work of George Balanchine in Europe. Next season’s ‘Best of Balanchine’ programme includes the classic Apollon musagète, one of Balanchine's early collaborations with Stravinsky, but also includes his 1964 work Tarantella which our reviewer described as "short but vibrant" back in March. Tchaikovsky's Theme and Variations and the Stravinsky's Violin Concerto are also back on the programme. ‘Best of Balanchine’ tours to nine venues around the Netherlands.

If it’s innovation in dance and opera you’re looking for, Dutch National continues to be leading the way.

Click here for our complete Dutch National listings.


This article was sponsored by Dutch National Opera.