Although there are dozens of fine operas to choose from it is perhaps disappointing that the vast majority of productions on offer are the usual suspects supplied by Messrs Verdi, Puccini, Mozart and Wagner.
Fortunately there are companies that eschew the easy, popular choices and find lesser known works to bring to the public’s attention. But even this vast canon of operatic work is not enough for Opera2Day who, once again, have contrived a brilliant new opera.
Billed as ‘the opera that Bach never wrote’, J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse is a collaboration between Opera2Day and Netherlands Bach Society which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The advantage in doing new or unknown works is that it gives the producers a blank canvas on which to work and nobody has any preconceptions. With J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse, Opera2Day’s artistic director Serge van Veggel paints with a rich palette and very broad strokes and has created a stunning piece of theater.
The opera tells the story of Jan van Leyden, a ne’er do well 16th-century Dutch actor, pub owner and tailor with the gift of the gab, an Anabaptist who believed that the end of time was near. He convinced his followers that they would be among the chosen ones at the Last Judgment. They moved to Münster in Germany and founded a fundamentalist community, expelling the Bishop and all Catholics from the city. Van Leyden crowned himself king of this ‘New Jerusalem’.
Ratifying the old maxim that you should be careful what you wish for, things became less utopian than everyone had been led to believe and Van Leyden’s New Jerusalem soon turned into Dante’s Inferno.
J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse starts in 1536 with the execution of Van Leyden and two of his cohorts. One of the other prisoners confesses and repents and the opera takes the form of a flashback with him acting as narrator, and very well it works too.
Based on works of J.S. Bach, with in between bits by Panos Iliopoulos and a German libretto by Thomas Höft, the new opera works brilliantly with no joins showing at all. It is as though it had always been.
There were some outstanding performances too. Florian Sievers was convincing as Jan van Leyden but I think the prize should go to counter-tenor Sytse Buwalda who played the Bishop of Műnster and mad preacher Jan Matthijsz – portrayed as a cross between Rasputin and Karl Marx – who decreed that everyone, except the Anabaptists, should be killed to achieve salvation.
The choir and orchestra of the Netherlands Bach Society, under the baton of Hernán Schvartzman, sang and played impeccably. The production was also impressive visually with simple but effective sets by Herbert Janse based on a revolve. The excellent lighting and costumes added to a near flawless production.
The authors of J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse should be congratulated for having created an opera which, if there is any justice, will be performed in opera houses around the world for years to come. Michael Hasted 10th February 2022
Because of continued uncertainties over Covid-19 this premiere was limited to only this performance at the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague. The tour scheduled for 2022 has been put in the fridge, as the Dutch say, and will be revived in 2024.