"OPERA2DAY, ONCE AGAIN, HAS CONTRIVED A BRILLIANT NEW OPERA"
OPERA2DAY, once again, has contrived a brilliant new opera (Arts Talk Magazine)
“Fortunately, J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse is not just a daring idea, it has become a fully-fledged opera,” wrote Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsblad after the opening night on 9 February 2022 about ‘the opera that Bach never wrote’. The opening night in a ‘Covid-soldout’ Royal Theatre in the words of NRC: “About 170 visitors saw the first and also the last – at least for now – performance of this opera in The Hague. It is a performance that deserves a much wider audience.” The opening night was not only the premiere but also the derniere: we have had to postpone the opera tour to 2024 because of the uncertainty due to the pandemic.
Bach as an adventurous opera composer (Theaterkrant)
Fortunately, we were able to complete the full performance and that was much appreciated: “The solidarity and engagement could be felt at all levels of the production. We could see and hear that they worked hard and with great integrity at getting this risky plan off the ground.” (Operagazet). Risky? A bit yes, because an opera by Bach? Could that work? Yes, the Theaterkrant writes: “Surprisingly, Bach is also an opera composer.” Operagazet has become “very convinced of Bach’s dramatic power” after seeing our opera and agrees with us that his music benefits from staging it as a play: “The dynamics of a play add more dimensions. The timbre and expression become warmer and more humane. There is fun, humour and energy.” Magazine De Groene Amsterdammer writes: “highly sophisticated” and “impressive”. Dutch national newspaper Trouw adds: “We deeply respect their courage” and “Looking forward to a wonderful and more extensive tour – even if it takes another two years.”
A lively performance in which all elements reinforce each other (Operagazet)
“The bizarre 16th-century story of Jan van Leyden was an excellent choice for the opera that Bach never wrote”, according to Concertzender. Magazine De Groene Amsterdammer describes our main character as “a familiar man who starts out as passionate idealist, but ends up as a bloody dictator.” Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsblad praised the “well-constructed scenario by stage director Serge van Veggel.” Operagazet writes: “Praise for librettist Thomas Höft, who performed a great feat – with talented feeling for Bach’s composing style and also for language, rhythm, timing and drama.” Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant wrote “The process of radicalization turning Van Leyden into a theocratic despot is all too recognizable” and Arts Talk Magazine beautifully summarized the downfall of the Anabaptist kingdom as follows: “Van Leyden’s New Jerusalem soon became Dante’s Inferno.”
Online magazine Place de l’Opera writes that “the Creative Director of OPERA2DAY Serge van Veggel and his team have been successful in creating a very special work of music theatre. A fascinating performance that is completely in line with the OPERA2DAY tradition. Always surprising us, always looking for something new.” According to Theaterkrant “director Van Veggel skillfully combines major scenes with intimate moments” and De Volkskrant writes about "scenes with great visual strength such as a coronation in milk-white costumes and a creepy banquet with rats on the menu.” A lovely quote by Arts Talk Magazine says: “Serge van Veggel paints with very broad strokes and has created a stunning piece of opera.”
Stage setting and decoration were also praised. Theaterkrant, for example, wrote: "The turning stage that is at the heart of the scenography by Herbert Janse effortlessly forges together the scenes and elements of time.” On this turning stage “an orgy of madness, violence and obscenity unfolds” writes NRC. Arts Talk Magazine paid this compliment: “Visually impressive […] The excellent lighting by Uri Rapaport and costumes by Mirjam Pater added to a near flawless production.”
Wonderful performance by the Netherlands Bach Society directed by Hernán Schvartzman (De Volkskrant)
The music was also commented on, of course, the music by Bach and by Panos Iliopoulos who forged the opera into a unity. “It must be lovely to pick and choose from the delicatessen supermarket of Bach’s vocal music. An impressive bouquet was formed with these delicatessen, carefully selected and placed.” (Concertzender) “Iliopoulos also composed music that was entirely his own, but that was rooted in the music by Bach. This renders wonderful lines of music, with baroque sounds and instruments such as the viola da gamba and traverso harmoniously merged with contemporary music.” (Theaterkrant)
“Both the choir and the orchestra of the Netherlands Bach Society (Nederlandse Bachvereniging) sang and played beautifully,” wrote Trouw. De Volkskrant mentioned the “amazing performance by the Netherlands Bach Society directed by Hernán Schvartzman.” This quote by Operagazet sums it up nicely: “The orchestra directed by Hernán Schvartzman embraced the cast with its warm, rounded sounds.” The NRC praises our joint Bach adventure to mark the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of the Netherlands Bach Society: “For OPERA2DAY, turning the opera genre inside out is the most natural thing to do. It is brave of the Netherlands Bach Society, and it pleads in their favour, that they joined this project.”
We could feel the solidarity and engagement of the entire cast. They sang and acted with great pleasure. (Operagazet)
There were also beautiful words of praise for the solo performers. Theaterkrant: “Tenor Florian Sievers is a powerful, persuasive and fierce Jan van Leyden. He is very determined – at first lovable and later ruthless.” NRC: “Florian Sievers is convincing in the way he shows us how a petty thief radicalises.” Operagazet: “At the end of the opera there is room for the more humane and vulnerable side of Jan, when he confesses his sins to the chaplain (baritone Wiebe-Pier Cnossen). This is a beautiful moment music-wise.” His “desperate confession” was described by De Groene Amsterdammer as “deeply moving”.
About bass-baritone Wolf Matthias Friedrich (Bernhard Knipperdollinck) Concertzender wrote: “highly convincing”, NRC wrote “a wonderful role” and Place de l’Opera wrote “he excells”. Finally, the words of Operagazet: “His voice carried extremely well and his acting was passionate in his role as a bloodthirsty schemer.”
“The kind baritone and the somewhat distant presentation by Mattijs van der Woerd were adequate for the role of Bernhard Rothmann, the intellectual brain behind this group”, said Operagazet. Concertzender found him to be “very convincing.”
“Both the crazy Anabaptist prophet Jan Mattijsz and his opponent, the power-hungry bishop, were extremely well acted by counter tenor Sytse Buwalda” wrote NRC. Arts Talk Magazine topped this by writing “The prize for an outstanding performance should go to Sytse Buwalda.”
Operagazet wrote: “Mezzo soprano Cecilia Amancay Pastawski, queen of Divara, has a wonderful, warm voice, very melodious especially when she pleads to God.” And “counter tenor Kaspar Kröner was vocally excellent and credible as the blind prophet Dusentschuer.” And “Soprano Viola Blache as Marijtje and Elisabeth was especially magnificent in the high tessitura.” And “Actor Jobst Schnibbe in his role as Heinrich Gresbeck was a passionate storyteller, who guides us through the story as an eyewitness.”
De Groene Amsterdammer felt that the “great choirs were very touching.” According to Concertzender “the choir of the Netherlands Bach Society was the star of this opera – shining bright and singing in a delightfully robust way.” Place de l’Opera saw that “it was especially the choir that gave the singing in this new piece of music theater flair” and De Volkskrant stated that “the parts of the choir are nearly all highlights.” NRC wrote: “they showed great enthusiasm in their acting and were a true opera choir” and Operagazet even mentioned that “the very first note of the choir brought tears to our eyes.”
Looking forward to 2024!
Let’s end with a quote from Arts Talk Magazine: “The authors of J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse should be congratulated for having created an opera which, if there is any justice, will be performed in opera houses around the world for years to come.”