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How I found love for opera in Sexyland. (And how you can too) #0FF17

In the new Amsterdam society Sexyland last night, a prelaunch organised by the Opera Forward Festival OFF [hints]From 18 to 31 March at The National Opera (formerly the Music Theatre/Stopera), among others[/hints]. I was impressed. Pretty surprising.

Opera Nopera

Disclaimer: the author of this one is not an opera director. The last two operas I saw were both by Philip Glass (the true opera snob now smiles scornfully), the first opera I ever saw was by Robert Wilson with Tom Waits (the true opera snob now digs diligently into his memory). The only 'classical' opera I ever saw involved a Mozart staged in a furniture outlet (the true opera snob once again has a heart attack, as he did that night - rarely have so many violently indignant pensionados seen together). But...

Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984) does rank number one on my personal pantheon of films that should survive any nuclear apocalypse for years.


OK, maybe I am an opera snob, but one with profound scepticism towards the genre. For instance, I have never really understood the fine distinction between opera and musical. In both genres, the action is interrupted every so often by suddenly loudly singing men who look like women or women who look like men. The true opera snob now cries softly 'that in opera the libretto and score are really through-composed, you know'.

Incidentally, I find this gender confusion one of the most enjoyable aspects of opera. The whole thinking in opposite sexes on one rigid scale is, of course, a laughably outdated dichotomy. We'd better get rid of that as soon as possible if we ever want to experience world peace. I digress.

Gaga is also opera

Photo: Desiré van den Berg

To the point: I was pleased to see the enthusiastic-young MC of the prelaunch - correction: the cheerful spokesperson for the press conference - jubilantly spoke of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in his opening. Suddenly, I freely saw the bigger picture. Opera can be anything and preferably is even somewhat topical and politically charged. Just as jazz is not a genre but a state of mind (or condition, if you like), and pop music is not a profession but a way of life.

To put it in policy language for a moment, OFF, organised for the second time this year, is the much-needed research and development laboratory for The National Opera to save the genre from a death by extinction. DNO even employs a diversity officer to bring this genre to the non-illuminati as well.

Highlights OFF17

The second edition of OFF looks promising. Among other things, we get a new staging of Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski with Christopher Maltman in the title role. Lotte de Beer performs two new operas: The New Prince, with a libretto by the Washington Post journalist David Ignatius, dealing with the Florentine Renaissance philosopher Machiavelli, and Caliban. Various parts from Karlheinz Stockhausen's Aus Light cycle, which will be shown at the 2019 Holland Festival, will get a taster during OFF[hints]Michael's Reise um die Erde (from Donnerstag) and Kathinka's Gesang (from Samstag)[/hints].

The venue Sexyland in hip Amsterdam Noord was cleverly chosen: the violent storm meant that many authoritative music editors did not dare cross the IJ. But the 150 'young and beautiful people' who were there[hints]Sexyland comes from the quiver of the Eddie the Eagle Museum: these are art lovers who know how to throw a party[/hints] were - no doubt for the first time - voluntarily exposed to the professional feats of strength of opera singers, such as Christopher Maltman who played the lead role of Wozzeck for its account.

Wooden shack

Unfortunately, the intended sample from that opera proved impossible due to a fellow player's cold, but Maltman did a little Mahler moppie (the true opera snob rises from his armchair and shouts in a skipping voice: 'Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Lied 3: Ich hab' ein glühend Messer!'). That whole wooden shack of Sexyland was suddenly nailed to the ground: where until that moment people had been happily chattering on at the bar, it was now dead silent. That is the true art.

Excited, I took the IJ ferry back home and contemplated: "damn it Tchong, you have to keep up with all this opera world too."

There is sound; a notion of impotence; a programme without a head or tail; there is power, chatter, compassion; there is nothing but also a vista, blurred image full of action and opposition. Moreover, the language seems a bit overwrought here and there. Of course, incoherent drivel can be cosy, or moving. Under circumstances, meaning can be possible, but it won't be easy to ground something valid on it. Although, something like that must have been tried at some point. An example does not want to come to my mind right now.

Misha Mengelberg, opera Cows/Cows, version 3 May 2016.

Jaïr Tchong

Formerly cultural journalist and music programmer (Tolhuistuin, Melkweg) in the Netherlands. Since 1 December 2019, music programmer for arts centre KAAP. KAAP organises two annual collaborations in Bruges and Ostend. In Ostend in its own venue by the sea, in Bruges nomadically throughout the city and with partners such as Concertgebouw Brugge, Cactus, CC Brugge and De Republiek. KAAP also organises festivals: Push the Button, Dansand, Jazz Brugge and AMOK.View Author posts

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