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A timeless requiem
Das Floß der Medusa is a timeless requiem for forgotten victims.
Das Floß der Medusa, by Hans Werner Henze, is based on the painting of the same name by Géricault, which commemorates the victims of the shipwreck of the Medusa (1816). The painter portrayed hope and the proximity of freedom, while also suggesting they were illusions. The famous director Romeo Castellucci makes the link to the current situation in the Mediterranean, where countless people are dying every day.
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.
Romeo Castellucci, one of the most radical theatre makers of our time, gets his teeth into this recalcitrant and still relevant oratorio by Hans Werner Henze, which kicks off the Opera Forward Festival 2018.
For Castellucci, Das Floß der Medusa raises the question of what it means to drift on the open seas with no chance of rescue. Can we conceive of this state of extreme abandonment? It also confronts us with the drama of the Mediterranean, where every day countless refugees are fighting for their lives on rickety vessels in utter desolation.
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. Castellucci divides the stage into a world of the living and the dead. In between is the narrator, Charon, who sings texts based on excerpts from the diaries of those who have been shipwrecked.
Film, theatre and opera
This huge production brings together film, theatre and opera. In Das Floß, Castelluci uses a theatrical and cinematic mechanism that inextricably intertwines the two art forms. At the spot where the shipwreck of the Medusa took place, the performance shows a video of a young Senegalese man in the water, like the main figure in Géricault’s painting and in Henze’s opera. Such extreme desolation is almost unimaginable. Castellucci wants only to confront his audience with this, rather than convey a message. The audience can decide on their point of view themselves.
Hans Werner Henze
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.
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
- 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 has also designed the sets, costumes and lighting. For the set, he has devised an undulating sea floor on which the chorus stands or sits to sing. Various platforms are pushed in turn to a higher or lower position, creating a ‘wave’. The differing lengths create a calm or stormy sea with waves of up to two metres high, giving the impression that the chorus members are bobbing around at sea.
The oratorio uses a large orchestra, a speaker, a soprano, a baritone and a powerful chorus - Chorus of Dutch National Opera, Cappella Amsterdam and Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderkoor - 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 Opera Forward Festival
Productiepartner Opera Forward Festival
Partner Opera Forward Festival
“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”.