After a two-year period where the subject of freedom has been heavily under the microscope, Artistic Director Sophie de Lint has addressed questions of liberty in her programming of Dutch National Opera’s 2022–23 season. “La Liberté” is Carmen’s frequent intoxicating refrain when she tries to entice Don José to desert from the army; “The open sky, the wandering life, the whole wide world your domain.” In the wake of Black Lives Matter and the increased threat of authoritarian regimes, de Lint’s season questions the concept of what freedom means. Weighty themes to be sure, but where personal freedoms have been limited due to pandemic pressures, there’s also an optimistic feeling of a fresh start, with many restrictions now lifted. 

© Monika Rittershaus

“Can you not understand that liberty is worth more than just ribbons?” asks Snowball (a pig) in George Orwell’s satirical parable Animal Farm. Published in 1945, when Stalin was clearly the author’s target, the book’s political themes of overthrowing oppression in pursuit of freedom and the way a new reign of terror can rise have resonated with readers ever since. Long fascinated by the book, Damiano Michieletto now directs Animal Farm for the operatic stage to a score written by Alexander Raskatov, with a libretto by Ian Burton. This won’t be the first time the Russian composer has set a satirical novella as his adaptation of A Dog’s Heart previously played at DNO, directed by Simon McBurney. In his new score, Raskatov is sure to allude to Stalin and his country’s troubled political history. Baritone Misha Kiria creates the role of Napoleon, the pig who declares himself supreme commander of the farm and coins the maxim “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. 

Blue, Jeanine Tesori’s award-winnning opera about race in the US, receives its European premiere in November having first been staged at Glimmerglass in July 2019. The subject is all too topical – African-American parents watch their son enter the world of activism to fight injustice, while the father struggles with his own role as a police officer, the “Black man in blue”. Tesori and American librettist and theatre director Tazewell Thompson capture the anguish of a community struggling in the face of traumatic loss. 

Jeanine Tesori’s Blue
© Karli Cadel

In Perle noire: Meditations for Joséphine, singer Julia Bullock, composer Tyshawn Sorey and director Peter Sellars explore the inspiring life of Joséphine Baker, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated entertainers and, as a civil rights activist, an icon of liberty. Baker recently became the first Black woman to enter the Panthéon, a mausoleum in Paris built to honour France’s great figures. Sorey’s staged song cycle, performed with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), opens in March. 

Lorenzo Viotti, DNO Music Director
© Linda Stulic
Mary, Queen of Scots, faced imprisonment, confined to various castles before being found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth I in 1586 and beheaded the following year at Fotheringhay Castle. Donizetti found a rich vein of inspiration in Tudor history and his Maria Stuarda is a cracking piece, featuring an entirely fictitious confrontation between the two queens. Bel canto expert Enrique Mazzola conducts Jetske Mijnssen’s new production, with Marina Rebeka and Aigul Akhmetshina as the sparring monarchs.  

Calixto Bieito directs a new staging of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, the interesting casting including Christophe Dumaux – who usually sings the psychotic Toloemo – taking on the title role. After this year’s Tosca, Barrie Kosky continues his three-opera Puccini series with excellent DNO Music Director Lorenzo Viotti. Turandot features Tamara Wilson in the title role and Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Calaf. For a real rarity, Christof Loy directs a new staging of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Königskinder. But perhaps the pick of the new productions is Rusalka, directed by Philipp Stölzl and with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the pit, conducted by the seriously impressive Joana Mallwitz. 

Ted Brandsen is hoping that, following the interruptions of the last two seasons, Dutch National Ballet dancers can find their groove again. “Our dancers are raring to go now, to pull out all the stops and show why Dutch National Ballet exists,” the Artistic Director declared. He’s certainly put together a diverse season. There are the Tchaikovsky classics, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, but new work too. David Dawson’s The Four Seasons will be performed alongside a new creation (as yet untitled) by DNB’s Associate Artist to a new score by composer Alex Baranowski. Ernst Meisner and Marco Gerris collaborate once again on a new work, adapting Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, taking a thriller-like approach. Christian Spuck’s setting of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem arrives from Ballett Zürich and featured the combined forces of DNB and DNO, conducted by Eun Sun Kim. 

The Sleeping Beauty
© Marc Haegeman

It’s good to see both companies performing beyond Amsterdam. DNB tours a programme of George Balanchine, Hans van Manen and Juanjo Arqués, while DNO takes Lucas Wiegerink’s Het lijflied (The Body’s Song) to young audiences around the Netherlands. And to visit a place of imaginary people who have imaginary adventures, you need to join Lorenzo Viotti in Operetta Land, which sounds just the escape we all need. 

Click here to see the complete 2022–23 Dutch National Opera and Ballet season
This preview was sponsored by Dutch National Opera.