Dutch National Opera presents

Das Floss der Medusa Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)

A timeless requiem

Duration 1:10

By Hans Werner Henze

Language German

Surtitles Dutch and English

Das Floß der Medusa is a timeless requiem for the forgotten victims of the indifference of the privileged classes. Romeo Castellucci, one of the most radical theatre makers of our time, gets his teeth into this recalcitrant work, which kicks off the Opera Forward Festival 2018.

In short

In 1968, the German composer Hans Werner Henze caused a huge scandal with Das Floß der Medusa. The premiere of this oratorio was abruptly called to a halt by the police just before curtain-up, following the riot that erupted in the auditorium when a large picture of Che Guevara was unrolled. Fortunately, recordings had been made of rehearsals, which were broadcast by Norddeutscher Rundfunk. The premiere eventually took place in Vienna in 1971. Henze created a new version of Das Floß der Medusa in 1990.


The story

Das Floß der Medusa tells the story of the French frigate Méduse, which was wrecked on the sandbanks off Mauritania in 1816. The French government left the 150 victims to their fate. This scandalous episode from history was immortalised in the enormous painting Le radeau de la Méduse by Théodore Géricault.


After the war, Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) was able to resume his music studies. In his work, he focused on recognisable human emotions, with a strong social engagement. He turned his back on emerging serialism and became known mainly as a composer of Neo-Romantic work of great lyrical quality. His Fifth Symphony (1963) was made on commission from the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein as the conductor.

Team, Cast and Chorus

Musical director 
Ingo Metzmacher
Stage director, sets, costumes and lighting 
Romeo Castellucci
Associate stage director 
Silvia Costa
Piersandra di Matteo
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Chorus of Dutch National Opera
Cappella Amsterdam
Rehearsal director 
Ching-Lien Wu
Children's Choir 
Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderkoor
Rehearsal director 
Eline Welle
La Mort 
Lenneke Ruiten
Bo Skovhus
Dale Duesing


Director Romeo Castellucci, who is also designing the sets, costumes and lighting, emphasises the contemporary relevance of the piece, now that so many refugees on rickety vessels are dying in the waves of the Mediterranean. The oratorio uses a large orchestra, a speaker, a soprano, a baritone and a powerful chorus, which voices visions of death as a collective mass.

Following the success of Khovanshchina, Ingo Metzmacher is returning to guest with DNO as musical director of this production. Das Floß der Medusa has only three soloists: La Mort (Lenneke Ruiten), the sailor Jean-Charles (Bo Skovhus) and Charon (speaking role, Dale Duesing).


Along with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra has been the regular orchestra partner of Dutch National Opera since 1985, and is internationally regarded as one of the best opera orchestras. Each season, the two orchestras perform the majority of the opera productions in Dutch National Opera & Ballet. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra gives a varied programme of concerts in the Concertgebouw and also performs at other major concert halls and festivals in the Netherlands and abroad. Marc Albrecht is the principal conductor of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra|Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and of Dutch National Opera. In recent seasons, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra has had great success with audiences and international press alike, with productions including Gurre-Lieder, Lohengrin, Der Rosenkavalier, Il Trovatore and Hänsel und Gretel. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Marc Albrecht, received an Edison for their recording of the DNO production Der Schatzgräber, in December 2014.

Founding Partners







    Mon 13 Feb Romeo Castellucci about his work in The New York Times, 2016

    “I don’t want to make sentimental work – I hate it – sentimentality is the opposite of cynicism. My work is about people, who may be wounded or hurt, but who always have a certain beauty”.