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Solid fare for royal couple at opening @hollandfestival

Holland Festival Holland Festival

Our king is not yet known as a lover of culture of the less bite-sized kind. The kind of performances, like the opera Quartett, with which the Holland Festival opened on 1 June. So it may have been a bit of a letdown for him, his wife and all invited guests to this technically stunning, and dramaturgically thought-out to perfection, piece of modern musical theatre art. Art of the high kind, based on a work by Heiner Müller, who caused a furore among lovers of unruly, multi-interpretable and highly textual adaptations of classics in the last century.

Whether King Willem Alexander became a fan after this opening performance remains Wassenaar's Secret, but the not too thunderous applause afterwards might be an indication of the mood in the car back.

Not that this piece, about which we have already a separate course have offered, is not of international class. Since its premiere at Milan's famous Scala, it has been drawing packed audiences worldwide. And, as we pointed out: everything is done to perfection. Moreover, the director has done his utmost to clarify the story of Liaisons Dangereuses, thickened considerably by Heiner Müller. He does this so well that it even became a touch too clear for connoisseurs of Müller's work. When the writer speaks of "a hole into which the whole of humanity can fit", the computer graphics on the backdrop also show us a hole, in which, indeed, all humans can be seen.

In more places, for instance, the direction leaves little to the imagination. In their complex role-play, the two lovers describe the triple rape of a young novice by the male protagonist, then we see it carried out. With underclothes on, but still. It scares you for a moment, because the earlier hands in the crotch and on the breasts of the perhaps just a little too attractive pair of soloists were starting to get a bit boring.

Heiner Müller's text is widely considered unplayable for actors. A few years ago, Barbara Sukowa and the still-lamented Jeroen Willems had a brave and also successful attempt see, but it is still difficult to turn sentences that meander on via three embeddings and subordinate clauses sometimes for half a page into living spoken language. 'Singing that text is perhaps the best thing,' one audience member said afterwards, and he had quite a point. The phrasing, charge and timing is then prescribed by the music rather than by the combination of intellect and empathy an actor needs for it.

The question remains whether our royal couple will become as much of an ambassador for the higher arts after seeing this performance as they are for sports and toilet bowl throwing. In any case, the Holland Festival is sticking to its mission to show in the Netherlands the high level of performing arts practised worldwide.

That's pretty brave.

Good to know
Performance seen on 1 June. At the Gashouder at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam. Still to be seen there: tonight. Information.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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