After a torrid 2020-21 season in which Covid-19 caused all but two opera productions to be cancelled, Dutch National Opera have forged ahead with plans for a full 2021-22 season comprising fourteen operatic productions (Dutch National Ballet have a substantial dance offering as well). As you’d expect from DNO, the offerings range from well loved productions to new takes on old classics through to contemporary opera and experimental work.

Pierre Audi’s thirty year tenure at DNO came to a close in 2018, but he’s back on 5th March to direct the world premiere of opera’s latest take on the Orpheus myth, this time told through the eyes of Eurydice: Manfred Trojahn’s Eurydice – Die Liebenden. Smooth-voiced baritone André Schuen and versatile soprano Julia Kleiter make their DNO debuts.

Michel van der Aa’s Upload
© Marco Borggreve

The season’s second newly written work, Michel van der Aa’s Upload, isn’t quite a world premiere – that happened at the Bregenz Festival – but is the piece’s first showing in an opera house. Upload is described as a “Film opera”, which contains significant film and digital technology components as well as live singing; DNO released it as a pure video version when Covid-19 made the stage version impossible, so they’ll be looking forward hugely to the “real” premiere. The subject matter couldn’t be more challenging and futuristic: a man who seeks immortality by uploading a digital version of his brain. The cast includes the star pairing of Roderick Williams as the man and Julia Bullock as his daughter.

Philip Venables 2019 chamber opera Denis and Katya – featuring just two singers and four cellists – is another piece that’s firmly rooted in our 21st-century technological world: it relives the true story of the teenaged Russian couple who live-streamed their double suicide on social media in 2016.

From April onwards, every month sees a new production of a familiar repertoire piece, each by a director with their own strong individual stamp and all very different from each other. First up is Barrie Kosky, who tackles his childhood favourite Tosca – but don’t expect this to look anything like the kind of Tosca that Kosky would have seen in his childhood: we’re expecting sparse sets and intense psychodrama. Malin Byström sings the title role; Puccini specialist Joshua Guerrero (“an undeniably exciting voice”, according to our latest review) sings Cavaradossi.

Don Giovanni
© Marco Borggreve

Tosca is the first of what will be a three year cycle of Puccini operas. Another three year cycle – Donizetti Tudor operas – starts on 10th May with Anna Bolena (Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux are to follow). The director is Jetske Mijnssen, who very much impressed our German reviewer with her recent Hippolyte et Aricie in Zürich. Last May, DNO and Mijnssen put on a highly successful appetiser for the trilogy entitled Donizetti Queens, in which Marina Rebeka, who sings Anne Boleyn in the new production, was described by our reviewer as “the queen of the evening, in every sense of the word”, the other big vocal success of the show being tenor Ismael Jordi, who will sing Percy.

In June, it’s time for the high Romanticism and – in its time – groundbreaking orchestration of Weber’s Der Freischütz, directed by the unpredictable Kirill Serebrennikov (most famous, in recent years, for having directed an excellent Così fan tutte in Zürich remotely from house arrest in Moscow), who makes his DNO house debut. Benjamin Bruns sings Max, Johanni van Oostrum sings Agathe, Riccardo Minasi conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

There are four revivals of productions from the repertoire. The season opens in September with Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (based on Oscar Wilde’s The Birthday of the Infanta, a harrowing tale in which a dwarf lives happily until he sees his own reflection). Olga Kulchynska and Clay Hilley lead a strong cast. Claus Guth’s pine forest setting of Don Giovanni returns for eight performances in September (staging clue: the Commendatore isn’t really dead); 2016 Operalia winner Bogdan Volkov stars with young Armenian soprano Mané Galoyan in Tatjana Gürbaca’s staging of La traviata (don’t expect belle époque frocks and furnishings). We used to describe Lahav Shani as a “rising star”, but he’s now pretty much fully risen: he conducts the Rotterdam Philharmonic in January for Ivo van Hove’s production of Richard Strauss’ Salome.

Richard Strauss’ Salome

There are no fully staged baroque operas this season, so baroque and early music lovers will have to make do with a mash-up of 16th and 17th-century music set in dialogue with the contemporary music of Scott Gibbons and promising that “the many facets of love are made tangible”. The evening, entitled Le lacrime di Eros, should be enlivened by the inventiveness of director Romeo Castellucci and the musical talents of Raphaël Pichon and his Ensemble Pygmalion. Another “not quite opera” production is Barbora Horáková’s staged version in September of Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli, uniting the DNO chorus with dancers from DNB.

Let’s finish this roundup with the most experimental work of the season, to be performed in DNO’s Opera Forward Festival in March. Last September, when the pandemic had killed off the planned production of Boito’s Mefistofile, Manoj Kamps and Lisenka Heijboer Castañon were tasked with creating a main stage production out of thin air in three months: the result, entitled Faust [working title], was an outstanding success (“Very rarely,” declared our review, “have I savoured something so breathlessly”). Kamps and Castañon are back on 12th March to continue their multi-disciplinary, multi-narrative, collaboration-based approach (and their love of square brackets) with [Collective works], which promises to “explore the versatility of opera as a genre, both musically and theatrically”. Which pretty much sums up DNO’s approach to the season in general...

Click here to see details of upcoming DNO events.

This preview was sponsored by Dutch National Opera.