401Concerts: Dutch court operas in The Hague 1751-1790

The roots of Dutch opera in the 18th Century French Theatre of The Hague

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In May 2018 401DutchOperas organizes a unique concert with the operas of the Dutch court composers at the French Theatre The Hague. Confirmed soloist at this point are mezzo soprano Barbara Kozelj, tenor Marcel Reijans, violin player Rémy Baudet, oboist Martin Stadler, cellist Richte van der Meer and harpsichord player/conductor Albert-Jan Roelofs.

According to popular theory the Netherlands never developed a national opera culture because it had no court music tradition. Ever since the late 19th Century that theory explained why there apparently weren’t any successful Dutch opera composers. In the wake of his research for the anthology in progress of 401DutchOperas and much to his own surprise, music critic and concert organiser René Seghers discovered that the opposite was true: although many if not most original scores were lost, there had been a thriving court music and opera practice around stadholders Willem IV en Willem V in 18th Century The Hague. They had court chapels for which they recruted distinct German and Italian maestros. Together with the high nobility of those days (the Bentincks, the Van Wassenaers) they also financed the French Theatre in Casuarie Street. From the production of the intriguing opera Les nôces de Venus in 1751 onwards, a distinct original Dutch opera tradition was established there around such composers as Zingoni, Colizzi (music teacher of princess Louise and the later king Willem I) and Meissner. These original Dutch operas were given in the French language, the official court language in The Hague at the time. Also performed there were original operas by Johann Just and Jan Jacob Obdam van Wassenaer (son of count Unico van Wassenaer, who centuries later became famous as the real composer of the ‘Concerti Armonici’, previously attributed to Pergolesi). Another fascinating forgotten Dutch opera composer of that epoch presented in the concert is baron Gottfried van Swieten, a close friend of Mozart.

Partner: Nederlands Muziek Instituut

Nearly all of the traceable original Dutch opera titles of the period 1751-1790 were lost in time. Nonetheless, years of research in the Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Koninklijk Huisarchief and foreign archives resulted in four complete surviving scores and nine partially surviving scores by the likes of Just, Zingoni, Colizzi, baron van Swieten and Jan Jacob Obdam van Wassenaer. These operas give a unique insight into the Dutch national opera history, and into the importance of the French Theatre The Hague 1751-1790 in establishing a national operatic culture. Seghers anthology will reveal that the influence of the French Theatre The Hague did not end with the French revolution. On the contrary: the tradition of the French influence in Dutch opera continued unbroken into the court of Willem I and from there well into the 20th Century; even some contemporary Dutch operas continue the French line in Dutch opera.

The highlights from the rediscovered Dutch 18th Century operas that will be performed during the concert revive this period in Dutch opera in a unique way. Not only will these operas be heard again for the first time since the 18th century, but they will also be made available to a large international audience by means of the audio-visual concert recordings. These will be published on cd and made available through our 401Concerts download series on 401DutchOperas.nl. These publications are accompanied by lavish 100+ page English/Dutch language pdf-booklets with lyrics, background info and composer’s biographies. Seghers: ‘By publishing them, our concerts are not the final result of the research, but the starting point of a second life for these fascinating forgotten Dutch operas from 18th Century The Hague’.

401Concerts and the French Theatre The Hague 1751-1790

Within the context of the 401DutchOperas project, Seghers has been working on his anthology in progress of Dutch and Flemish operas since 2010. He rediscovered over 400 titles that have been composed in the Netherlands since 1646. Of nearly all of these operas literally nothing was known until their entry in his anthology and the 401DutchOperas website. Bothered by the lack of recordings of any Dutch opera pre 1940  the 401DutchOperas Foundation strated organizing concerts with highlights of the rediscovered scores. Since 401Concerts 1 in 2015 these performances follow the anthology as it is being written. Meanwhile over 60 excerpts of Dutch opera’s have thus been performed and recorded. Just as in 401Concerts 4 ‘Dutch fin de siècle arias from the ‘Nederlands Muziek Instituut’, the concert with Dutch opera highlights from the French Theatre The Hague 1751-1790 is a coproduction with Nederlands Muziek Instituut.

Now that research into Dutch opera in the 18th Century has been completed and al the scores have been digitalized, we are working toward this unique concert including highlights from all the surviving operas by Van Wassenaer Obdam, Zingoni, Colizzi, Just, baron Van Swieten and Meissner. As is the custom in the 401Concerts seriesSeghers presents the rediscovered highlights in their proper context by means of brief readings into the plots, the background, the composers, the French Theatre The Hague and the musical culture revolving around Willem IV and Anna van Hannover, Willem V and the Bentincks and Van Wassenaers, as well as the muse of the theatre, Rose Baptiste.

For the performance of this concert, a high carat ensemble is currently being formed. The musical direction is placed in the hands of harpsichord player Albert-Jan Roelofs, who also provided the performance arrangements/reconstructions of the scores for harpsichord, cello, violin and flute. Among the instrumental soloists we can already name such distinguished musicians as Rémy Baudet (Concert master Orchestra of the 18th Century), Martin Stadler (1st oboist of the Dutch Bach Society) and cellist Richte van der Meer. Among the vocal soloist we can already mention the internationally renowned mezzo soprano Barbara Kozelj, and the renowned Dutch tenor Marcel Reijans. Once other soloists are confirmed, we will add their names here.

The concert is scheduled for May 2018. A precise date is currently being established according to the possibilities of the various soloists. Regrettably, the old French Theatre in Casuarie Street no longer exists as a building. The concert will take place either in The Hague’s new Church or in Diligentia.