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Reisopera seeks new director. And an artistic colourist.

'Nina Hiddema and the supervisory board have concluded that this is a natural time for Nina to step down.' Nice sentence in the press release that appeared in the mailbox on 15 January. De Reisopera, the Enschede-based opera company that performs operas especially for everything outside Amsterdam and Maastricht, is bidding farewell to director Nina Hiddema after two years. Whether completing and submitting the new grant application for the Basic Infrastructure is really a natural moment? You can doubt that. Nor is a successor ready yet.

Hiddema took over as general manager in early 2022, with the main tasks of restoring order to the organisation and finding a new artistic face. While order has probably been restored, a new artistic face is not yet in place. For that, a vacancy appeared online just last month. 


Then people start looking for connections anyway. Because for the next four years, the artistic director sought will have to implement artistic policies that have already been fully defined in the BIS application. In the vacancy it reads: "The outline for programming for the upcoming BIS is there. Colouring this will be your responsibility." So Reisopera Nederland is not looking for an artist, but someone who can fill in colour plate, preferably within the lines. Not very appealing for an aspiring artistic director.

But there is more. Because in 2022, the first year of Hiddema's directorship, the touring opera was still betting on a 'artistic board'. Not a single appealing face, but 'polyphony' was the stakes: "Polyphony is the basis for who and what the Netherlands Reisopera wants to be. And especially what it shows and hears. Multi-voicedness that shines through in the mix of disciplines, in space for young and established talent, in regional, national and international input, in involving new audiences and in greater (cultural) diversity. Multi-voicedness is also crucial in the substantive discussion about the Netherlands Reisopera's programming. All sounds deserve space, while being brought to a resounding whole. For a content impulse with maximum effect, the Reisopera will establish an Artistic Board. This advisory board supports the artistic teams working on the individual productions, and contributes ideas on programming and choices.

Lace board

The artistic board was thus Hiddema's idea of a new-style artistic director. That idea seems to have been abandoned because in December that vacancy appeared for an artistic director, who has almost exactly the same job description as the artistic board had in 2022: "As Artistic Leader, you are decisive in shaping and promoting the artistic vision of our company. You are also responsible for artistic policy. An overall view of your work: You give direction to the artistic content of productions and ensure innovative and qualitative opera productions. You work closely with the artistic teams hired for each production, such as directors and designers. In collaborations, but also outside them, you are the artistic voice of the Nederlandse Reisopera.

Screen shot from the Dutch Travel Opera website

That the 'artistic board' is on its way out is also evident from the layout of the web page 'About Us' of the Reisopera. There, the five names are at the very bottom in small print, not in the cheerful colours of the rest of the site. So the intended multi-voiced face of the Reisopera, formed by Michiel Bijmans, Hein Braaksma, Booi Kluiving, Astrid Rose and Nicole van Vessum is now just a footnote, while duties are transferred to the intended 'artistic picture colourist'. 


The interpretation of the term 'Natural Moment' used by the Supervisory Board about Hiddema's departure can thus be debated. As can the question of whether the company came out of the Corona crisis as healthy as it was. The annual report for 2022 in fact shows a sizeable deficit, reduced only by the fact that a number of projects did not go ahead (and thus self-employed people who did not have to be paid). However, more staff were hired at the (new) office. 

Things get really worrying in the risk analysis attached to the report. In ten points, we see a picture emerging of a cultural organisation that does have a lot of vulnerabilities. On almost all points that the Council for Culture and other governments consider important, the Dutch Reisopera scores an inadequate score by its own standards. What is striking is that much was expected of the artistic board when it came to securing diversity and inclusion. Indeed, with three white men, one white and one black woman, there is a question mark or something about that. 

In its 2022 annual report, the Netherlands Reisopera recognises that the organisation still has a lot of work to do to meet the requirements of subsidisers. The main question today is whether it will be given another four years to do so. 

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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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