In an era when people flit from one job to the next in the blinking of an eye, it’s incredible to consider that Pierre Audi has been artistic director of Dutch National Opera (or De Nederlandse Opera as it was then known) for 30 years. This September, Audi steps down, heading to sunny Provence as general director of the Festival d'Aix. Sophie de Lint, currently artistic director at Zurich Opera, takes over, meaning that the coming season is one of transition, but is characteristically full of new productions by directors much in demand throughout Europe.

<i>Girls of the Golden West</i> © Cory Weaver | San Francisco Opera
Girls of the Golden West
© Cory Weaver | San Francisco Opera
Audi acknowledges the incredible journey taken by the company – and its loyal audience – in transforming opera into “a relevant and enduring art form”. He writes movingly about the uplifting, timeless message opera still has to offer “of hope, of faith in the power of the human spirit, of the need for compassion, diversity and tolerance”. His final season focuses on the themes of ‘Identity and Confrontation’, culminating in three parts of Stockhausen’s monumental seven-part opera Aus Licht, probably DNO’s most ambitious project since Audi’s production of Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Among the season’s big new productions is a new staging of Janáček’s Jenůfa by Katie Mitchell. The British director strives to turn the spotlight onto female perspectives in her productions, controversially so in operas like Lucia di Lammermoor. But a work like Jenůfa which features strong female characters – the opera’s subtitle “Her Stepdaughter” references the major shadow the Kostelnička casts over the plot – should suit Mitchell’s approach. Her cinematic style, often employing split-screen sets, often means lots of intricate detail to take in; characters are rarely off-stage in a Mitchell show. Annette Dasch sings the title role, while the pivotal role of Jenůfa’s stepmother is taken by Evelyn Herlitzius.

It’s always a special occasion when the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra plays for DNO. Next season culminates in a new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, where the RCO will be in the pit under chief conductor Daniele Gatti. Olivier Py, whose productions of French operas such as Dialogues des Carmélites have met with great critical acclaim, directs the new staging, which will be part of the 2019 Holland Festival. Stockhausen's Aus Licht, directed by Audi himself, is also a co-production with the Holland Festival and will be held in Amsterdam’s Gashouder. Twenty years after the cycle’s completion, Aus Licht has never been performed in its entirety. With an opera for every day of the week, Audi focuses on three episodes: Thursday to Saturday.

<i>Oedipe</i> © ROH | Clive Barda
© ROH | Clive Barda

Wagner’s Tannhäuser appears in a new production by Christof Loy. Impressive soprano Svetlana Aksenova sings Elisabeth, while German tenor Daniel Kirch is Tannhäuser. Innovative stagings have always been important to Audi, as is the presence of new work in the company’s programming. When Audi joined DNO, György Kurtág had been commissioned to write an opera… a commission he finally fulfils with Fin de partie, based on Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Audi directs the world première this November at La Scala before the production transfers to Amsterdam the following March.

Fin de partie features in the Opera Forward Festival, which celebrates new work in the genre. Other productions include the European première of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, set in the California Gold Rush, which we reviewed at San Francisco last November. OFF also includes Micha Hamel’s Caruso a Cuba – based on an incident when a bomb exploded in a theatre in Havana while legendary tenor Enrico Caruso was singing a performance of Aida there – and Donnacha Dennehy’s The Second Violinist.

Young Dutch directors take on new productions next season. Lotte de Beer is entrusted with a new Barbiere di Siviglia, with a cast led by Nino Machaidze as the wily Rosina. Floris Visser directs a Vivaldi rarity, his only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans, based on the biblical story of Judith freeing the town of Bethulia from Assyrian siege. Vivaldi specialist Andrea Marcon conducts his own La Cetra Baroque Orchestra and a cast led by French mezzo Gaëlle Arquez.

Among the co-productions featured next season which are playing in Amsterdam for the first time, Porgy and Bess (co-produced with The Met and English National Opera) features a fine cast headed by Eric Owens, while Fura dels Baus’ staging of Enescu’s Oedipe – originally at La Monnaie – recently wowed London audiences at the Royal Opera.

<i>Cinderella</i> © Angela Sterling
© Angela Sterling
Dutch National Ballet’s 2018-19 programme is exciting and compelling, featuring a balance of classical and contemporary ballets. The season opens with the traditional Gala evening, which this year pays homage to the late Rudi van Dantzig, former artistic director and choreographer of the troupe. Having directed the company for 20 years, from 1971 to 1991, van Dantzig is widely credited with bringing the Amsterdam company international recognition. Respected worldwide for its excellence, and the versatility of its dancers, who master the classical ballet repertoire with a distinctive elegance just as finely as they dive into the complexities of modern choreography, Dutch National Ballet continues, with this new season, to go from strength to strength.

Excerpts from van Dantzig’s Swan Lake open the Gala, and the ballet will be performed in full in the Spring. Other ballet highlights include Rachel Beaujean’s adaptation of Giselle, which will tour around the country in November and then again in April 2019, as well as the revival of John Neumeier’s La Dame aux camélias  in the autumn. Adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel of the same name and set to some of Chopin’s finest piano scores, the ballet is an audience favourite in European opera houses and one of Neumeier’s finest narrative works. 

21st-century choreography punctuates the season: Serenade after Plato's Symposium (Alexei Ratmansky) and Chroma (Wayne McGregor) enter the repertoire as part of a New Classics bill in the Autumn, Juanjo Arqués presents Ignite (co-produced with Birmingham Royal Ballet) and an evening of new commissions by British choreographer David Dawson premieres in February 2019. Christopher Wheeldon’s widely acclaimed Cinderella returns to delight children of all ages for Christmas and an evening dedicated to Hans van Manen, Ode to the Master, rounds off the season with a quintessentially Dutch flavour.


This preview was sponsored by Dutch National Opera