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Reinbert de Leeuw: Reconstructie - Synopsis

  • 11
  • 22
  • 33
  • 1a
  • 1
  • 2
  • Schat, Vlijmen, Mengelberg, De Leeuw, Andriessen
  • Reconstructie, Holland Festival 1969

The scene is Theatre Carré, a former circus. Behind the stage various fragments of a statue of Che Guevarra can be seen. During the performance, seven workmen will erect the eleven meters high statue to its full size. The aim of the opera is to revive the true value of Che Guevara from a pop icon on t-shirts and souvenirs to a Latin American freedom fighter, who leads the resistance against US Imperialism. In the former circus ring a circle is drawn of seven meters in diameter. This circle represents the Western hemisphere. In the center there is a huge bed, representing Latin America. On the geographical position of Cuba a large baroque mirror is placed. The moon shines above the audience. Lianas and giant ferns on either side of the stage represent the Bolivian jungle. To the left and right were table with 13 metal placards each, which were flipped at set points in the performance, to mark the next scene.

Part I

syn1The opening scene presented a girl in blood stained wedding dress is lying on a bed: Cuba. The opera takes place on three levels. The first is that of the workers assembling the statue of Che Guevara. The second is the level of Don Juan and the Commander. The third level brings big-time American businessmen to the stage. A reconstruction is going on at each level.

A is for America

The Overture begins, while the workmen are fastening Che Guevara’s shoe at the base of the to be erected statue.


The overture is the model of cooperation between five living and several hundred dead or half-dead composers.

The Choir is structured as follows:


  1. Dollar – investment – profit – credit
  2. Per year – per day – per minute
  3. Four thousand – five million – two billion
  4. Atonal – abberation – attention – America – apple – apache – Akela – atom – attach – adventure – Alliance – for progress – arms – abc – anal – Alpha ad Omega
  5. Gnoepiloquiflex – nylonpepsidralon

Meanwhile twenty beautiful majorettes in tight costumes, coquette boots and bright red shakos on their platinum wigs, march jauntily into the ring, singing a song commemorating the Yuki women’s support of their men when they battled other tribes: ‘When the men of the Yuki tribe in California…’ When the majorettes leave, Erasmus appears. He puts Cuba to her feet, and the libretto mentions that the appearance of this famous humanist in the opera is due to the fact that 1969 celebrates the fifth centennial of his birth, and both Mulisch and Claus had previously been invited to write a dramatic about it. Both declined because Erasmus didn’t make a choice between the Pope and Luther and they feel they are facing another historic moment where choices will have to be made. So they decided to give Erasmus his place in their own work rather than in the Rotterdam celebrations, and they made him Don Juan’s servant, which gives him ample opportunity to practice in making choices. Erasmus recites a monologue, ‘Erasmus, born 500 years ago, in 1469’. He laments his God loving and all too feminine mother, his unworthy father, a priest, and thus explains his vows to abstain from sex himself.

Part of Don Juan’s Monologue
Bert Olsson (Don Juan)

Don Juan enters and praises his servant for being so zealous and pure, before lecturing him about money, power and women. Choir A and B sing about the victims of imperialism in South-America, where each minute four people die. At this point the opening lines of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni are quoted in the music. Bolivia appears and sings a brief lament: ‘In Latin America every thousand dollars leaves one dead man behind’. Don Juan sniffs her scent, and explains that he smells a woman!

B is for Bolivia

Don Juan seduces Bolivia in a rather striking love duet:

Your forehead is the plateau of the Andes
Bert Olsson (Don Juan), Natascha Emmanuels (Cuba)
Don Juan
Your forehead is as the plateau of the Andes
Your hair is black as manganite
Your belly is of lava
You are as hot as the Empeza salt marshes
I am cold
Don Juan
You are moist as balsa reed.
I am dry
Don Juan
Your breath smells of vanilla
My breath stinks
Don Juan
You are open as the lakes of Aullagas.
I am closed.
Don Juan
I can stand it no longer,
I must have her, now, in my bed.
No, not yet, slowly, slowly.

Don Juan
Lead her to the boudoir.
(To Bolivia)
And you, take a bath, brush your teeth.

When Don Juan exclaims that he shall invest the night in Bolivia, Erasmus sighs that this is by definition a bad idea: ‘Invest, no good will come of that’. Exlaimed in clear speech, this is one the moments in the libretto, where the political agenda of the team is presented in unmistakable words, by actor Henk Molenberg in the role of Erasmus:

‘Investing is suspicious’
Henk Molenberg (Erasmus)
Invest – no good will come of that!
To invest in flesh,
Is not that the greatest evil?
Is it not so the he who, on the contrary
Invests in the mind
Will find the inner peace
Which is so necessary for the achievement of
Peace among all men.
Unrest and violence can never be for the
Good of mankind.

C is for Culture

syn2A sequence of made up television adds is performed, for products as ‘Hair de luxe’, ‘Earoflex’, Quicky-quick-quick’, ‘Raspodent’, ‘Gnoulox’ etcetera. Clyde appears. He is the 56 looking 46 years old director of the Total American Company, and husband of the frigid Cinderella. He is visiting Latin America, the most backward continent, with the people’s best interest at heart. Clarence appears, he makes the same statement as Clyde, although now he speaks of a a sterile wife named Chouchou and a Mommoth Enterprise ready to harvest the Latin American riches. ABC appears, praised by al for having so much feeling for all that lives… and dies. Clyde and Clarence call him a true humanist, with a smile for everyone, for the Negroes, the starving, the illiterate and the dead.

Short fragment C is for Culture
Short fragment intro’s Clyde and Chouchou
Siem Vroom (Clyde), Carola Gijsbers van Wijk (Chouchou)

D is for Devotion

ABC states his cause as to seize production of meat in Argentina, coffee in Brazil, sugar in Cuba, Cocoa in the Dominican republic, rice in Ecuador, bananas in Guatemala, cotton in Haiti, oil in Venezuela, and so on. All applaud him. Clyde recalls how his Total American Company 'helps' Latin America by 'developing its riches'.

Clyde recalls how his Total American Company 'helps' Latin America by 'developing its riches'
Siem Vroom (Clyde), Paul Brandenburg (Clarence), Jérôme Reehuis (ABC), Hetty Verhoogt (Cinderella), Carola Gijsbers van Wijk (Chouchou), Yoka Berrety (Claudelle)

E is for Eating

Three Bolivians place a table and six chairs on the geographical position of the Sandwich Islands. They put a tin of crackers and a spray can shaped like the Apollo capsule on the table.

‘Their eyes devour my bosom’
Yoka Berrety (Claudelle), Carola Gijsbers van Wijk (Chouchou)
Carlos, Ramón, José, Juanito
Their eyes devour my bosom
Their tongues lust after my ears
Their teeth bite my neck.
(Each sprays a cracker and then eats it. Claudelle takes a photograph of the Bolivians. Clyde takes one of Claudelle)
Oh how delicious these crackers are
While they squat down in the back of the ring, Clyde, Clarence, Chouchou and Cinderella praise the food.

F is for Fantasy

Don Juan polishes his pistol; Erasmus prepares his master’s dress.  Don Juan sings of his reproductive capacities an: ‘My tree grows and blooms when the woman gives birth’. Don Juan’s musical disintegration is most audible in this aria in three styles, those of Diepenbrock, Stravinsky, and Henze, conducted by three conductors. Intriguingly, the mentioned styles are tailored to the two principal themes from Don Giovanni, which remain the principal motives throughout.

G is for God

Say what have you people thought of God at all day?
Of course. God.
I couldn’t live without God
What can you do without God?
I’m crazy about God
Of course, of course. But what have you done today for God?

Clyde said a prayer, Claudelle sang a song and when ABC fulminates that praying isn’t ‘doing’, Clyde writes out a check of $ 250 for the blind in Argentina… They start bidding against each other until Claudelle writes a check of $ 100.000 for a cause she has to be reminded of… What? Mongoloïd children? Alright.... ABC scolds them. He demands 2 billion dollars. Bombs are heard falling. All stifle with fear.

H is for Hate

The voice of Jack Tyrannosaurus Tenorio (voice of Don Juan through a megaphone) announced that his man launched an attack in the district of Quebrada del Churo. This commemorates Che Guevara’s attack there. Jack Tyrannosaurus has topull back his man though, and shouts retreat to the tunes of Star Spangled Banner, Dixie, Columbia, Gem of the Ocean, Yankee Doodle, Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the hymn ‘Abide with me’.

I is for illusion

Tuning of instruments. Bolivia enters in a wedding dress. Overture. Bolivia goes to the bed, hypnotized. The scene is designed as the reconstruction of a miniature opera, evoking the style of Mozart although not imitating him. The unorthodox orchestra and the complete absence of typical instruments of a Mozart orchestra prevent that. According to the composers, the brief overture of 40 seconds might be seen as the most successful result of their joint effort. None less than seven versions preceded it before they settled on this one.

I for Illusion ‘Overture’

In the miniature opera, Don Juan and Bolivia exchange data in Italian language about the number of people starving each minute in Latin America and the profit made on them. When they exit the stage, Erasmus laments the fate of Bolivia, who is now being raped by his master and conceiving his child. When he warns his master that men are approaching, it is The Commander, father of Bolivia, who wants to avenge his violated daughter. As he turns to embrace her first, Don Juan stabs him in the back.

J was the Murderer

Don Juan shoots the Commander and proceeds to shoot Bolivia as well. He is prevented in doing so when the winch with which the workman are hoisting the sections of the statue breaks loose. Don Juan flees.

Don Juan kills the Commander
Bert Olsson (Don Juan), Pieter van den Berg (Commander)

K is for Keen

Bolivia sings an aria on a poem by César Vallejo:

When the fight was over
And the warrior dead, a man came to him
And said: ‘Do not die, I love you so!’
But ay, the body went on dying.
Two men came to him, and repeated:
‘Do not desert us. Have courage. Come back to life!’
But ay, the body went on dying.
Twenty, a hundred, a thousand, five hundred thousand came,
And cried: ‘So much love, and of no avail against death.’
But ay, the body went on dying.
Then he was surrounded by millions.
And they beseeched him: ‘Stay with us brother!’
But ay, the man went on dying.
The all the people of the earth came to stand around him;
The corpse looked at him, sadly and moved;
Slowly he rose to his feet
Embraced the first man, and started to walk.

As in F is for Fantasy, tonal and non-tonal motives occur together. The composing team generally discovered that the words tonal and atonal were merely formal expressions that went together naturally. There are passages of strict tonal music in Reconstructie, and passages with purely tonal music.

L is for Lifeless

Bill looks at the Commander’s body and takes out a walkie-talkie. The electronic treatment of the sound reflects the way in which the opera is made: mutual penetration of ideas– distortion into fragments of the score by the cooperation in realizing these ideas.

Jack Tyrannosaurus answers his calls and summons him to search the body.

M is for Moonlight

Everything is bathed in pink, syrupy moonlight. Bill, Claudelle, ABC, Chouchou, Cinderella and Cyde all attest to their various ideas of love and making love, while the choirs repeat their chant about the number of people dying in Latin America per minute. A cacophony develops in which all sorts of incestuous relationships come to pass. Bill is continuously aiming his gun and eventually he fires it at the lianas o none side of the stage. ABC orders him to stop but Bill says that he fires at anything in the jungle that moves that is not white. ABC believes that Bill shot his father, but it appears to be Martin Bormann, a personage from World War II. He erupts in a philosophical delirium, quoting Heidegger in saying that ‘Truth is Non-Truth’ etcetera. Next Tarzan appears.

End of the declamation of Heidegger, intro Tarzan
Alex van Royen (Martin Bormann), Peter van de Wouw (Tarzan)

Once again ABC believes to recognize his father. Cinderella believes him to be a gorilla.  Clyde calls him the father of his company’s president. Bormann is sure: he is Arian!

A thousand dollars per dead man.
Four times each minute.
Thus the seeing can see how recognition recognizes and salutes itself: all’s well that ends well. Who is the daughter of God? What is the heart of the body of the people? What is the being of being? (He swooshes down like a fireman) Love! Love!
[Twenty beauty queens wearing sashes in national colors immediately crowd around him.]

N is for Neighborly Love

In what seems to be a Beatles parody, all sing that neigbouly Love is all they need. They will do anything for it: kill, spy, lie.

Nazi love is the great Unneighborly quest for the HOW.
Neighborly love gives energy.
For our neighborly love everything must make way
For our neighborly love we’ll kill a man’s day.

For those interested the composers added that the musical structure here is analogous to the one in C is for Culture. The actors sing à la Mothers of Invention [Frank Zappa’s band], with a Darmstadt accompaniment of seven keyboard instruments. The soloists’ choir (B) has meanwhile developed into a sort of Salvation Army choir, complete with tambourines.

O is for War and order

In this conclusive movement of Part I all letters A to O come to pass once again, with a short one liner to summarize or comment on them.

O is for War and Order, this is our favorite creed,
Beware, beware, beware of this you do not heed.
You can all go now – P is for PAUSE
Come back after, we’ll continue with our cause.

During the Intermission (P is for PAUSE) the chord (for four Hammond organs) which interrupted the Overture in A is for America for some moments is heard – the intermission chord.


P was for Pauze

A Boys’ Choir nproceeds with reciting the alphabet, working from Z down to Q:

Z is for ZILENCE and Zilence is golden,
We only speak the truth when we’re not beholden.
Y is for YANKEE; what is his trick?
Speak softly, and carry a big stick.
X is not nothing, as you might think,
For X is UNKNOWN, the missing link.
W is for WEAPONS, our greatest need
To start revolutions with greatest speed.
V is for VISION, which sometimes is clear
But cloudy and muddled when base don fear.
U is URGENT like you gotta take a leak:
From drinking too much Coke all through the week.
T is for TIME of you like it or not,
It has hands and a face, and belongs to a clock.
S is for SALVATION, or not, as the case may be,
Depending on your relationship with God, eventually.
R is the RECONSTRUCTION of the bloody deed,
And when the blood has dried, words are all we need.
Q is QUETZALCOATL, the serpent with its Plumes
The God of the humiliated land, the God that looms
When the mirror burns.

Q is for Quetzalcoatl


Fragment of Quetzalcoatl’s scene
Pieter van den Berg (Quetzalcoatl)

Smoke rises from the mirror. Enter Quetzalcoatl, a huge god in flaming colors. He walks slowly to the silhouette of the murdered commander, chanting the names of the days of the months of the religious year (TZOLKIN) of the Maya, as listed in The Book of Chilam Balaam of Chuamayel Imix.

R is for Reconstruction

Enter the seven workman, the three Bolivians, and Cuba. Exit the God. Cuba takes off the blood stained wedding dress and puts on a uniform, while Choir C reads out a letter in which the seven are being considered for the commission ‘to write an opera on the evoltion of, and the revolution in human relationships’. Choir A answers that they can’t accept, since it is inconceivable that seven individual, modern artists can create one work as was common practice in the middle ages.  Choir B adds that the focus would result in a work that concentrates on everyday needs, whereas artistic ambition would call for a work that had greater value. Choir C states the artist’s aim in writing the opera at all as follows:

The only task of the artist at this moment is to create confusion, so that the certainties of the late-capitalistic consumption society are undermined.

S is for Salvation

Tied together with ropes Tarzan, Bormann. Clyde, Clarence, Chouchou, Cinderella, Claudel, Bill and ABC appear in succession, somewhere high up in the audience. The descent to the arena, which they envision as the Sajama, an extinct volcano, faraway from pollution, politicians and the like. It’s back to basic, back to the womb. In an example of absurdist theatre, they comment on wart infected mushrooms that represent the countries of Latin America. The proceed to the bed, the mother of them all, to whom they long to return:

Dear friends! That which… is now taking place
Alex van Royen (Martin Bormann), Jérôme Reehuis (ABC), Hetty Verhoogt (Cinderella), Carola Gijsbers van Wijk (Chouchou)
Dear friends! That which… is now taking place… This original notion
Of the complex references comprehends itself here as the Presence
Of the Intermundane-ness of the Essence of Maternity. Principia Economica Al Caponensis!
The Mother of our President!
This is the Unconceiledness.
Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, spring, source, primal fungus – mother! He sinks down among the mushrooms.
How cute.
How sweet.
The metaphysical piece of furniture, which reveals itself as a Mother.  Love! Love! Unity! Communication! Love! Come, children, come…

A number of pregnant women in wedding dresses enter, among them Bolivia. Erasmus acts as their guardian, singing a soliloquy, ‘ Now, as evening falls’. He defends his neutral position and his present status as the harem keeper of Don Juan. As it turns out, one of his women, Cuba, escaped from the seraglio, which left Don Juan behind in anger and sadness over the unjust behavior of the wench. He is looking everywhere for the wench:

Oh moon, you who govern both tides and women
Bert Olsson (Don Juan), Claudine Arnaud (Bolivia)
Don Juan
Oh moon, you who govern both tides and women,
Oh my satellite, where is she, the sun-crazed slut?
There is hope, sisters.
He is growing old, sisters.
His bones are creaking, sisters.
Soon he will be dead, sisters.
Don Juan
Take care, my child.
I am immortal, my child.
And you shall live forever,
You shall never be free from me.

When Bolivia recalls the escape of Cuba, Don Juan mocks her, saying:

There is no hope, I shall guard
My fold better, and I shall not let in the light.
But… but… but…. There… there is the bitch,
Like a corpse she is, in rags,
Her ones pierce her skin.
Where are your breasts?
You have no milk.

T is for Time

syn4The monument has now been completed. Bolivia returns to the choir. Don Juan tries to stop her. He summons the sleeping ABC to help him stop het but breaks the umbilical chord, which leaves him dead. Bill undergoes the same fate. One by one Don Juan kills the rest.  The statue of Che Guevara suddenly turns out to be the evocation of Mozart’s Stone Guest.  He knocks:

Don Juan
My servant, go and see who is there.
Don Juan
Erasmus (teeth clattering with fear)
Master, I am afraid.
Don Juan
What is it, then?
An iceberg. A statue. We are doomed. A stone guest!
Don Juan
The stone guest?

U is for Urgent

The three Bolivians place a table in the shape of North America in front of the feet of the statue. Applause for the departing workmen. Cuba puts the sheets on the table and leaves too.

V is for Vision

In a dialogue with Don Juan, Erasmus expresses his fears of the Stone Guest, while Don Juan mocks him. Erasmus refuses to eat from the table with toads and cockroaches, and he dies. To which Don Juan proposes a toast:

Farewell, vegetarian.
You tasted language in your life,
Through this ordeal you have remained useful
Until your death.
And now to business.
Sir, we shall sup.

W is for Weapon

Bolivia proposes to wage war on the enemy wherever he is; he must not have a moment of peace. The text here s base don Che Guevara’s article ‘Create two, three… many Vietnams – that is the motto.’ Bolivia’s singing here follows musical rules, which have emerged in the preceding scenes.

X is for the unknown

Don Juan
Is it time now?
Has the time come?
In all legal cases a man has the right
To know the reason and nature of the charge.

When no answer arrives, Don Juan shivers. The more he fulminates, the colder it gets, he starts to freeze. Eventually he calls for Christian forgiveness, but to no avail. He sinks into the shrine.

Death of Don Juan
Bert Olsson (Don Juan)

Y is for Yankee

The stone guest surveys the battlefield.

Z is for speaking

Boy’s choir
Other hands stretch out
For our weapons.
Other men are prepared
And sing the keen
Into the staccato of the machine gun fire
And new cries of war and victory.

This text is also from Che Guevara’s article ‘Create two, three… many Vietnams – that is the motto.’ The entire orchestra joins in a swelling crescendo in D.

Final seconds Crescendo in D, and applause