Wow! - I can't believe it is the final opera this season - opera number 7 with Opera Vlaanderen. It has been a very intense year with some very challenging pieces of music, to learn and perform in very limited time. I am so glad that we are finishing the season with this opera. Verdi's Macbeth is a true masterpiece; and also super fun to perform in. This is a high energy production with lots of movements and physicality. I really feel like I am getting a work out during the witches scenes. During rehearsals, my Fitbit detected that I was doing some kind of "sporting activity". I found that quite amusing because I was just doing my job. In the photo above, I am the witch on the far left, with what looks like a rainbow over my head, the slow exposure really captures the movement of waving these paper streamers (or the Flemish word: Slingers) in the air. I think this shot really shows well the energy that we put into this scene in the 3rd act.
We are only performing Macbeth in Antwerp this time. It will return again later in the year, during next season, for performances in Gent and Luxembourg. Let's hope they don't run out of the fake blood before then! We use so much of it in this production.
Shakespeare's Macbeth is certainly the most demonic of Giuseppe Verdi's works. The focus is on the transient nature of power. We witness how a chain of violence, terror and paranoia is unleashed, fatally and destructively pitting Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the witches against one another. Following the productions La Forza del Destino and Otello, the German director Michael Thalheimer is thus creating his own Verdi trilogy at Opera Vlaanderen.
After a prophecy, Macbeth falls prey to an unprecedented ambition and thirst for power, encouraged and orchestrated by his wife. But with the power also grows the guilt and this growing awareness leads to insanity. In the context of the 19th-century Italian opera, Macbeth was risky business. Not only did Verdi work from a harrowing play that was little-known in Italy; he also dispensed with the obligatory love story. Especially innovative was his focus on the disturbed minds of both protagonists, whereby drama and music are inseparably bound up with one another.
With the Italian conductor Paolo Carignani – certainly one of the leading maestros in the Italian opera repertoire working today – the musical direction of Macbeth is in the safest of hands.
Length: 3 hours, incl. one intermission Italian with Dutch surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
I am super proud of my company. Well done to everyone!
Opera Vlaanderen has received the International Opera Award for Best Opera Company.
Opera Vlaanderen was up against some tough competition; Opéra national de Paris, Theater an der Wien, Houston Grand Opera, Deutsche Oper am Rhein and GöteborgOperans were also nominated, but in the end it was Opera Vlaanderen who received the honors.
Artistic director Aviel Cahn when accepting the award:
"An enormous honor and a recognition of ten years of hard work by everyone at our opera house. On stage, behind the scenes, in the offices and the ateliers. More than anything, this is an award for them. This emphasises yet again that Opera Vlaanderen is part of the international top because we bring opera in exciting and societally relevant ways. I hope this award inspires everyone who - just like us - believes in the future of opera as a genre."
My first time in Luxembourg. What a very special country! I've been wanting to come and visit some friends here for a while. I'm so thrilled that I got to see them finally.
I loved revising this opera again (4 months after we last performed it). It felt like seeing and old friend. Exactly the same. Like nothing had changed. At first I was a little nervous that I might have forgotten all the words. But as soon as the piano started playing the overture in our first rehearsal it all came back into my mind. Isn't it amazing how the human memory works.
I'm sad to say goodbye to Nurse Jenny. I think this has been my favourite opera that I have had the privilege to be a part of this year.
This was a very unique experience to be a part of. Unlike any opera I have ever performed in before, Les Bienveillantes shines a torch on humanity at it's utter worst. The story is centred around a highly disturbing Nazi Officer during the second world war. The music was based mostly on Bach chorals, but Hector spent time in Auschwitz while composing the piece and I feel that his music was strongly influenced by the time he spent there.
This production brought many challenges to us as performers. One of the main obstacles was the mud that was used to literally flood the stage. It made the floor quite slippery and so you had to be conscious of every move. It also meant that the technical team and costume department would spend hours after every performance cleaning it up again!
They also managed to have a flying grand piano in this production. At first I was terrified to walk underneath the piano - incase it fell. But we soon learned that it was very safely floating above our heads the whole time. It's amazing what our talented technical team can achieve.
A world premiere after Jonathan Littell's controversial novel The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes) from 2006. The main character, SS officer Max Aue, is not only a witness but above all, also a participant in the horrors of war, but he is not burdened by it. After the creation of Infinite Now, about the First World War, Opera Vlaanderen assigned this challenging commission on the Second World War to librettist Händl Klaus and the Catalan composer Hèctor Parra. It will be directed by Calixto Bieito.
The characterisation of Maximilian Aue as a sensitive, culturally refined intellectual, but also as a psychologically traumatised, homosexual Nazi, creates an uncomfortably ambiguous situation. The adaptation of this novel as an opera is a true tour de force. With Les Bienveillantes, the composer Hèctor Parra has written his sixth major work for music theatre. He combines strong musical structures with a highly intuitive and direct dramatic tone.
For Les Bienveillantes, Opera Vlaanderen is putting together a cast of opera singers with a strong stage presence. The director and guiding spirit of Les Bienveillantes is Calixto Bieito, who has lost none of the radicalism that established him as the enfant terrible of the opera scene in his early years. The musical direction will be in the hands of Peter Rundel, a specialist in contemporary music who also previously directed Hèctor Parra's Wilde at the Schwetzinger Festspiele.
Length: 3 hours 30 minutes, incl. one intermission German with Dutch and English surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
There is still time to watch our production of La Juive on OperaVision- Or just watch the first half an hour (Act 1) to get a jist of it and to hear our wonderful chorus:
I thoroughly enjoyed singing in this production. It won several awards a few years ago when Opera Vlaanderen first performed it. I am not surprised that they decided to bring it back, everyone that I worked with was very fond of this show. The story is compelling, the music is delightful and the staging was quite fun too. The cast were given different colour hands depending on whether they were portraying Christian (blue) or Jews (yellow). This was the only part of the production that I found frustrating - no they weren't gloves, but makeup painted onto our hands. The hand makeup was very inconvenient if you needed to go to the toilet during the interval for example. It also meant that everything I touched was always left with a blue fingerprint on it. The things we do for our profession...
Created in 1835, Fromental Halévy's La Juive was controversial from the start. For some, it was an insult to the religion and the state, for others it was a plea for understanding. Above all, it is a human tragedy of a Jewish father and his daughter. It instantly became one of the greatest opera successes of the first half of the 19th century until the work was banned by the Nazis.
With his grand opéra La Juive, Halévy composed a masterpiece which, in the first 50 years after the première, was performed 500 times in Paris alone. This archetype of the genre became a milestone in European opera history not only for its content, but also for its grand staging and forceful impact. Until the work vanished from the stage under the rule of the Nazi regime.
Director Peter Konwitschny turned La Juive into a powerful performance, without conventional dramatic or musical concessions. The pressure of society which, under the influence of religious fanaticism, leads to a fatal destruction of love, was thus clearly laid bare. The production received the prestigious FAUST prize as best performance of the 2014-2015 opera season and was showered with international praise. This reprise of La Juive will feature a completely new cast in the principal roles, including, as leading man, the tenor Roy Cornelius Smith.
Length: 3 hours 15 minutes, incl. one intermission French with Dutch surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
Today is our final performance of Cardillac. This is quite a spooky murder story with music that is both highly romantic and lyrical, and at the same time dramatic and angular. The production has been set in the 1920s. The set and many of the costumes are all in Black and White. The designers have clearly been inspired by film noir. I love the coat that I get to wear, with it's fur collar and cuffs: it makes me feel like a diva! However, the makeup is a little on the scary side for my taste, but it works very well on stage in the context of the opera. It makes the chorus look unidentifiable as individuals, and more like duplicates of the same person. I find it very funny when I am in the wings of the theatre in the dark, and I can never quite tell which of my colleagues I am standing next to!
"Cardillac from 1926 is as gripping as a spine tingling whodunnit, at the same time as offering a nod to the contemporary world of Antwerp jewellers. The libretto, based on an early crime novella by E.T.A. Hoffmann, tells a timeless story. Hindemith's austere music is exceptionally to-the-point and perfectly captures the dramatic situation. A diamond in the rough in the hands of director Guy Joosten.
Hindemith's first major opera Cardillac (1926) takes its material from Das Fraulein von Scuderi by E.T.A. Hoffmann. A modern metropolis is plagued by mysterious crimes – unsolved murders have the people terrified and the authorities resort to drastic measures. It is against this backdrop that the story of the jeweller Cardillac unfolds. He cannot abandon his art and becomes a murderer.
For this production of Cardillac, Opera Vlaanderen invited Guy Joosten, who previously demonstrated his affinity for early 20th-century operas in 2009 with Wozzeck.
The former principal conductor Dmitri Jurowski, who confirmed his mastery of the genre in this work, will be musical director for Cardillac.
In Cardillac, the leading role will be performed by the British baritone Simon Neal, who previously dazzled in Calixto Bieito's production of Mahagonny.
Length: 1 uur 40 min, no intermission German with Dutch surtitles"
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
Nurse Jenny was in the Belgian Newspaper “De Morgen” on Thursday as part of their article on our production of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs des Perles!
My favourite performance with Opera Vlaanderen so far has to be this unique production of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Set in an old people's care home, this production looks back on the lives and loves of the past. Instead of physically and literally diving for pearls, the characters in our production are diving for pearls of memories within their own lives' journeys. I play a nurse who works in the morgue. So now all of my colleagues have nicknamed me "Nurse Jenny". And one of my friends who came to watch said that I was like "an Angel of Death".
"Les Pêcheurs de perles, Bizet's first great attempt to write a dramatic lyrical drama is a hidden gem, often overshadowed by Carmen. But all that will surely change in the hands of the stand-out theatre collective FC Bergman. They immerse the story about the transience of love and friendship in a fascinating world. A must-see opera debut!
Practically all that has remained of Les Pêcheurs de perles in the collective memory is the beautiful duet Au fond du temple saint, while the view of the libretto as questionable hackwork has kept the opera from the stage. This operatic tale of pearls and fishermen has, in a sense, itself lain hidden within its shell. And wrongly so, because behind the intense, at times sentimental story and superficial exotic flourishes, there is a strikingly modern theme: nostalgia for the purity of youth.
In directing Les Pêcheurs de perles, the internationally acclaimed Antwerp theatre collective FC Bergman are venturing into opera for the first time. They mingle a hard realism with a mysterious, dreamlike atmosphere, a highly suitable combination for an opera that, in both the music and the story, connects a bygone age with the immediacy of the now. With this production, the Belgian conductor David Reiland will also be making his debut at Opera Vlaanderen."
Length: 1 hours 40 minutes, without intermission French with Dutch surtitles
Photos: Annemie Augustijns
My second production with Opera Vlaanderen was the mind boggling, tongue twister of an opera: Satyagraha. It was a fun challenge to learn this opera (in Sanskrit) in a shorter time than the rest of my colleagues. When I first got the score, I remember thinking that this opera would be impossible to memorise. All the companies that I know have performed this in the past, have had a prompt screen or a person mouthing the words at them. But we performed the whole thing from memory without it. I was extremely proud of the work that we put into this performance. It was extremely difficult, but that is what made it so rewarding.
"In Satyagraha, Philip Glass shows how Gandhi's ideas can change the world. Director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui creates, together with stage designer Henrik Ahr and costume designer Jan-Jan Van Essche, a unique world in which both the narrative and the philosophical elements are united in a meditative performance. The eternal movement is embodied by the dancers of Ballet Flanders and Eastman. The Chorus of Opera Vlaanderen also has a leading role to play.
Satyagraha, "the power of truth", is the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), who promoted nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of injustice. Following his opera Einstein on the Beach (1978), in Satyagraha (1980) the American composer Philip Glass further developed the idea of an opera that is built up through a series of associative images. Glass describes this type of theatre experience as like leafing through the pages of a photo album.
Following Akhnaten in the 2014-2015 season, with fascinating costumes designed by Walter Van Beirendonck, Opera Vlaanderen will be bringing a second masterpiece by Philip Glass to the stage. As was the case for Pelléas et Mélisande in the 2017-2018 season, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui will be invited to act as director and choreographer once again. In this opera, his sinuous language of movement embodies the eternal struggle against injustice. Musically, Glass' astonishing minimal score will be brought to life by conductor Koen Kessels. Satyagraha is a coproduction with Theater Basel and the Komische Oper Berlin and received the special support of the Friends of the Opera Ballet.
Length: 3 hours 30 minutes, incl. two intermissions Sanskrit with Dutch surtitles"
Photo: Rahi Rezvani
Jennifer Coleman - is a classical / opera singer, and vocal coach, performing across the UK and internationally.