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Opera The New Prince: pretentious bombast

It is not easy to visit an opera presented as a stunning piece of contemporary social criticism without fear. Especially when it evokes such totally different reactions. Some call The New Prince 'an opera on the vein of our own time' (Mischa Spel, NRC), another gives 'a fat fail' (Erik Voermans, Het Parool). Another needs more 'textual layering and fewer musical clichés' (Peter van der Lint, Trouw). Yet another calls it a 'spectacle opera' that leaves nothing to your imagination (Henri Drost, Theaterkrant).


I'll start at the beginning. Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz (b. 1985) composed The New Prince by order of the Opera Forward Festival. The libretto was written by David Ignatius, columnist for The New York Times. Which was based on the book Il principle by Niccolò Machiavelli from 1532, which dissects the machinations of power.

Chewing gum in mayor's lodge

Ignatius depicts Machiavelli as a living person, called to his aid by pop star president Wu Virtu in 2032 as his position falters. Virtu heads the empire Amerasiopia and is modelled on Kim Jong-un, the current ruler of North Korea. Chewing gum, he looks down on the stage of Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg from the mayor's lodge. South Korean bass Simon Lim has the right, arrogant look and a good voice, but his English is lousy and almost unintelligible.

Wu Virtu (Simon Lim) Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bored, he reviews the do's and especially don'ts for a successful ruler presented to him by Machiavelli (the very convincing baritone Joshua Hopkins). Assisted by coauthor Henry Kissinger (nicely self-deprecatingly portrayed by Marc Kudisch), he works on a new version of Il principle. His patron is Lady Fortuna (a heavily pregnant, vile Karin Strobos), who also acts as declarer of his axioms. A motley parade of dictators - from Savonarola to Hitler and from Mao Tse-Tung to Mubarak - illustrates 'why monarchs should beware of revolution'.

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky with cigar

Explicit sex scenes - including Bill Clinton with a cigar and Monica Lewinsky (a horny Nora Fischer) - show that as a ruler, you have to curb your urges. A 'clash of civilisations' must also be avoided. Osama bin Laden and Dick Cheney simultaneously descend a show staircase, each chanting their own rightness.

Wu Virtu is only moderately interested in the teachings of Machiavelli. But when his people revolt, he cunningly manages to turn their anger on him. Beaten black and blue, Machiavelli, along with Fortuna, decides to retire to his writing life.


Director Lotte de Beer pairs the excess of characters and events with a bombardment of visuals. It looks spectacular, with dizzyingly fast costume changes and impressive sets. De Beer adds one more topicality to the pretentious and utterly undramatic libretto. Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are fighting over a globe. When he brutally snatches it from her hands, a chorus wearing Trump masks appears behind him. Indeed, nothing is left to our imagination.


The opera is not helped by Fairouz's music - raggedly performed by the Residentie Orkest. It is one big, bombastic pastiche. Carl Orff, Leonard Bernstein, John Adams, American folk music, Italian bel canto, Gregorian chant, jazz, everything passes by. It is all catchy and the pounding rhythms are catchy, but it lacks individuality and challenge. Too slick for opera, too unrefined for musical.

In short, a fat insufficient from me too.

Good to know

Seen: 29 March 2017, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. Still to be seen there on 31 March. Info and maps.

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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