Steef de Jong
Text: Laura Roling | Photo: Tim Stet

‘Operetta Land: a place where imagination reigns supreme’

21 March 2022

Steef de Jong champions romance and sentimentality.

It all started as a bit of a joke when theatre maker Steef de Jong happened to come across some old operetta records in a second-hand shop. “The main reason I bought them was because I thought the images on the covers were hilarious”. But then he listened to them and was instantly sold. “I instinctively knew this was something I wanted to pursue.”

Steef de Jong attended his first ever opera performance when he was a student at the Rietveld Academie. “I went because I was curious. The visual arts weren’t the only thing I had an affinity with – I was interested in music and theatre as well. So, using my student discount, I purchased a ticket for Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It was magical and opened up a new world for me. I was completely spellbound by this fusion of disciplines that was able to transport its audience to a completely different world and give them new experiences.

Genuine sentiment

But Steef still felt like something was missing. When he played the operetta records from the second-hand shop, everything fell into place. “It was the genuine sentiment of this genre that got to me. Nowadays, people are quick to ridicule these things, but I personally feel we could all benefit from having a bit more romance and sentimentality injected into our daily lives. The world is hard and ugly enough as it is. I yearn to be swept away by something breathtaking.”

After having discovered the genre, Steef wanted nothing more than to see an operetta as quickly as possible. “As this wasn’t an option in the Netherlands, I went to Vienna. I ended up seeing Der Vogelhändler by Carl Zeller, but I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience. The audience members couldn’t contain their laughter and I had no clue as to why. I nevertheless returned from my trip feeling inspired. I had a strong sense that this art form had become something different from what it originally had been.”

‘I want to take the audience to another world’

Entertainment and a social commentary

“I think operetta arose from a desire for more light-heartedness, more fun, more sensuality. Operetta has its origins in the 19th century, when opera had turned into something grand and noble. Operetta provided an alternative as it offered entertain- ment and social commentary, while poking fun at society. For instance, many operettas feature strong female characters who free themselves from their repressive roles, overturning the traditional power dynamics.”

Steef got the idea for the title Operetta Land when going through his record collection. “I stumbled upon titles such ‘Marco Bakker in Operetteland’ and ‘Spaziergang durch das Land der Operette mit Peter Alexander’. That’s when it hit me. I wanted to take the audience on a journey that would allow them, much like me, to immerse themselves in another world where imagination reigns supreme. I can think of no better name for this place than Operetta Land.”

 

Steef de Jong

Steef de Jong is a theatre maker, songwriter and visual artist. In his work, he likes to explore the boundaries between arts and kitsch, ratio and sentiment, reality and fantasy, subtle details and big gestures. He has a fascination for operetta: the misunderstood stepchild of opera and the mother of musical theatre.