Annette Dasch
Annette Dasch | Photo: Klaus Weddig

Conductor Kwamé Ryan and soprano Annette Dasch on Die ersten Menschen

1 March 2024

The revival of Die ersten Menschen will see conductor Kwamé Ryan and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra tackle this electrifying score for the first time. Soprano Annette Dasch will return to the DNO stage after performing this opera in 2021 during the pandemic.

Kwamé Ryan: “After conducting Blue (2022) for Dutch National Opera, I’m really looking forward to returning for Die ersten Menschen. This work is set in a completely different world and uses a very different musical idiom. It will allow me to show audiences another side of my artistic personality. I’ve also been following the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra for some time now. I really admire them and I’m looking forward to collaborating on an opera that we will be tackling together for the first time. We will be starting with an open mind, enormous curiosity and a fresh musical score: those are the perfect conditions for our first creative encounter.”

“Calixto Bieito’s direction gives the orchestra a place on the stage. The orchestra becomes a kind of extra character embracing the singers. It will let the musicians produce a richer sound with more dynamic diversity because you don’t have so much of a problem with the balance. But it’s also a challenge: I will be standing with my back to the singers. We will be in contact via monitors, but that is never the same as being able to look someone in the eye. This is a new and exciting challenge that I am looking forward to taking on with this team.”

“It will help that I feel comfortable with the twentieth-century repertoire and composers like Strauss, Wagner and Mahler. At the same time, I always approach a work as if it were new and I investigate the tools the composer gives me to tell the story. That is  how I arrive at my own interpretation, in which I like to look for the deeper meaning, the underlying messages and ideas.”

Kwamé Ryan
Conductor Kwamé Ryan

Complex without being aloof

Annette Dasch: “It is difficult to find comparisons for Rudi Stephan’s music. He developed his own unique musical idiom and it is so sad that he didn’t live to compose more. His music is effective without being manipulative. It is also multi-layered and incredibly subtle. It is complex but never aloof; you can easily connect to it.”

Die ersten Menschen is about growing up and getting older. It’s about finding your place in the world and your goal, about exploring your sexuality and spirituality. For the parents, Adahm and Chawa, it’s about rediscovering yourself and your position in the world as you get older. It’s an ancient story but it feels very modern because of the relatable themes.”

“It certainly is not easy music for us as singers. But it is incredibly powerful, so you get sucked up into the story and don’t really have time to think about the difficult part you have to sing. Chawa is also a dream role for my acting skills. This character is different to the ones I normally play: it is a very strong and physical role, which makes it incredibly demanding. But the director Calixto Bieito is very good at creating a safe space for his singer-actors to draw on their inner resources in developing their characters. All four of us discovered our roles for the first time in 2021, and now the same cast will get the opportunity to take that process a step further. This means that musically, the standard will be even higher.”

Text: Jasmijn van Wijnen

Kwamé Ryan is a conductor and music teacher. After a period as music director of Freiburg Opera and as music and artistic director of Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine in France, he now tours the world as a guest conductor of various concert orchestras and opera houses. He has won international awards for his exceptional achievements in music education.

Annette Dasch regularly performs at international festivals and with leading opera houses. From Mozart to Wagner and from Janáček to Stephan, she stands out for her compelling stage personality and her versatility in both concerts and operas.