Opera with punk, junk food and the fear of the unknown

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How often do you get the chance to come up with an opera from scratch? Five Academy of Theatre and Dance students discuss the innovative operas they’re making for the National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival.

Opera Forward Festival is offering the new generation of opera directors the chance to create and stage new productions. Six new operas are being made by interdisciplinary teams of students from every academy of music in the Netherlands, the Academy of Theatre and Dance, the Netherlands Film Academy, Rietveld Academy and the University of Amsterdam.

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Leander Breen (Theatre in Education) and Gerbrand Bos (Theatre in Education): ‘Improvised opera about exclusion and the fear of the unknown’

‘De grens is bereikt is our opera about exclusion. How do you relate to those who are not like you? Do you do so from a position of curiosity or of fear? We took inspiration from current events like Trump, the kid [in the Dutch news] who was bullied and ended up committing suicide, and the Orlando nightclub shooting. How much influence does a community have? And how much responsibility should an individual bear?
The biggest kick for us is that we’ve managed to make an opera that’s improvised. The singers and musicians are all walking a tightrope – improvisation is rare in opera. There’ll be a chorus of sixty students from five academies of music, plus six string musicians and three soloists, all improvising.

Luckily for us they’re an incredibly talented bunch and they come to rehearsals already bursting with passion and enthusiasm. And we’ve chosen a really special location: the roof of the opera house! Our opera demands a greater willingness to experiment and a higher degree of collaboration than has ever been witnessed before.’

De grens is bereikt
Wednesday, 22 March: 14:00–14:15
Saturday, 25 March: 13:00–14:15 and 16:00–16:15
Location: Mezzanine, National Opera & Ballet

Stijn Dijkema (Theatre Directing): ‘It’s a real thrill to work with a large choir’

‘Our opera Aporia is all about doubt, about the inner struggle of the creative individual trying to channel to their inspiration, about the struggle between the heart and the mind. It’s a subject that I as a director, and everyone else in the team, can really relate to.

‘Working with a composer is a new experience for me. Here, it’s the composer who sets the atmosphere and pace, and the moment to emphasize emotion – they’re all things I’d normally have to come up with myself. The biggest thrill has been working with so many dedicated artists to create a single production. How do I stimulate their creativity? How do I make sure it all comes together? It’s also terribly exciting to have a large choir at my disposal. How often do you get an opportunity like that?’

Wednesday, 22 March: 17:00–17:15
Friday, 24 March: 20:30–20:45 and 21:30–21:45
Location: Boekmanzaal

Jessie l'Herminez (Theatre Directing): ‘Punk in a fast food restaurant’

‘Hoofd Maal Tijd is about the banality of consumerism and the self-destruction of humanity, and we’ve set it in a fast-food restaurant. The instrumentation includes an electric guitar and drums – there’s a punk in the ensemble and we use punk music.

We’ve had to incorporate a 40-member male choir and an entire ensemble into the concept. It demanded quite a different approach from what I was used to. And even though this is everyone’s first-ever opera, it's been a real pleasure to be part of such a large and capable team of professionals. What a luxury!’

Hoofd Maal Tijd
Friday, 24 March: 18:30–18:45 and 21:30–21:45
Saturday, 25 March: 17:00–17:15
Location: Education Room in the foyer of the National Opera & Ballet

Rosemintje Verpaalen Weijts (Theatre Directing): ‘Unconditional love for an addict’
‘Verbena is the story of a drug-addict wife and mother who is blinded by her obsession. Her daughter and husband keep trying desperately to reach her, but they fail.

Verbena is about one day in the life of a family. From sunrise to midnight, we follow the parents and their daughter in their struggle with each other. The family is jammed and you see that reflected in the installation-design: everything is a mechanical repetition and the singer, musicians and the choir are assimilated in the image.

It’s a new experience to be operating in the ‘confines’ of opera, where the music is the dialogue and my task is to make the visuals and direction serve that music. I’ve never had the opportunity before to work with musicians, a choir and soloists in this way. They’re different from actors in that their focus isn’t on the physical or visual, but on performing the music as excellently as possible. I need to find the right balance. It’s a given that I’ll need them to play flawlessly, but I’m keeping it simple because I also need them to be able to follow the conductor.’

Friday, 24 March: 19:30–19:45 and 22:30–22:45
Saturday, 25 March: 17:00–17:15
Location: Montagehal