Bee Opera Country visitors can take home a construction plate. In doing so, director Steef de Jong in fact gives them a blueprint of his staging: the cardboard, inventive design that is so important for this wonderful family performance by Dutch National Opera. The craft decor effortlessly fills the huge stage of 22 by 16 meters, but it would also fit in a diorama.
The deliberately coarse, childishly painted set pieces, which can fold up and out, conceal all kinds of surprise effects. The palace is a breathtaking pop-up book. The overgrown palace garden is tidied up by the Hedge Trimmer Hussars who simply fold down the painted bushes and trees. The players poke their heads through holes in cardboard fronts on which their costumes are painted.
By emphasizing the DIY in the decors, theater is created that is close to the audience: you feel the creative child awakening in you.
Technical tour de force
Steef de Jong can do his crafts Opera Country effortlessly blowing it up to gigantic proportions, and linking it to the high-quality theater technique of Dutch National Opera. Here he can drive complete decors back and forth, or simply let the palace rise meters high. The performance immediately starts with such a technical tour de force: De Jong floats high above the stage on a sky bicycle. He is not only responsible for the direction and the decor, he also plays a part as the narrator (the Verzinner) and as the smart cleaning lady Lady Kant.
From that moment on, the libretto of comedian and columnist Paulien Cornelisse unfolds. With great pleasure she transformed the clichéd operetta plot into a playful palace intrigue, in which (true to the genre) disguises play an important role.
The royal house of Operetta Land is struggling with money problems, so the princess must be matched with a wealthy prince during a court ball. But it turns out that three versions of the prince are in circulation, of which only one is the real one. Light beckons Cornelisse to the Greek myth of King Pygmalion and his statue Galathea, which has come to life.
Schwung and swing
Operetta, the frivolous sister of the opera and the mother of the musical, has not been practiced professionally in the Netherlands since 2001. The halls were full, but the cabinet found operetta stale and turned off the money tap. The beloved genre lives on in amateur art. And thanks to De Jong and Cornelisse, it is now getting a fresh start at De Nederlandse Opera – although Opera Country actually more of a pastiche on the genre.
The music is not original, but a diverse collection of eleven existing operettas by Johann Strauss Jr., Leo Fall, Offenbach, Gilbert & Sullivan.
Paulien Cornelisse takes into account the contrast between the low-rated, voluptuous operetta and the highly-rated, heavy opera. The villain, with a copper scouring sponge beard, is the king of the hostile neighboring country of Operania. While in Operetta Land everything always ends well, that is not the case at all in Operania. The king (bass-baritone Freek Bergman) expresses himself in dark opera arias, originating from Faust from Gounod. To emphasize the king’s intrusive role, his arias are the only ones not in Dutch.
With panache and swing, conductor Aldert Vermeulen serves up this irresistible meringue pie with the National Youth Orchestra. A nice thing about the cast is that a few talents from opera training at the National Opera Studio can also seize their chance, such as the Puerto Rican tenor Ian Castro as Prince Nicola, and the Delft soprano Elenora Hu, who plays the leading role of Princess Galathea.
The entire cast radiates a lot of fun, as if they are taking a break from the heavy opera company. The spectators can alternately gawk in admiration at so much inventiveness, and rattle with enthusiasm to start tinkering themselves.
Read also: Steef de Jong: ‘We find positive emotions simple. Nonsense!’