Euryanthe / Vanda, Muziektheater, Amsterdam

New Amsterdam
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The Independent Culture

As Amsterdam unveils this year's Holland Festival, the Concertgebouw and Netherlands Opera at its new Muziektheater have both dished up opera rarities. With the composer conducting, Hungarian Peter Eötvös's The Balcony (after Genet), seen last year at Aix-en-Provence and staged in Amsterdam during June, supplies as sizzling a new opera as any by Matthus or Reimann. Gerd Albrecht and the Dutch Radio Philharmonic delivered some astounding Dvorak; and just off the Amstel, David Pountney's hit-and-miss Euryanthe poured alternate hot and cold water on Weber's one through-composed operatic masterpiece.

"Caparisons are odorous," Mrs Malaprop warned. But Amsterdam was up against last season's Mark Elder-Richard Jones Glyndebourne staging, and Sussex won hands down. Claus Peter Flor rarely prised from intermittently coasting Concertgebouw strings the icy buzz that infused every bar with the period Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. But there was exciting brass and traces of fine woodwind. Weber's magical scoring, like Der Freischütz, caps even his brilliant cousin-in-law, Mozart. A few bars of Euryanthe set Lohengrin, Siegmund and even Brünnhilde on their way. It's nascent Berlioz, too: pure knockout.

Tobias Hoheisel's design - Classical structures couched between Gluck and the Vittorio Emanuele memorial, with Euryanthe and her handmaids gorgeously set against Wolfgang Göbbel's evocation of evening sun - a Caspar David Friedrich tinged with Fragonard - more than sufficed. Göbbel's' shifting lighting, ambers to whites to shivery greens, functioned like the cold water of key changes: arguably, this production's best feature.

Other visuals worked sporadically: Pountney's unremittingly loopy wandering chorus was disastrous, and distracted from the real focus : Euryanthe's tomblike premarital bed, on which the beautifully toned Gabrielle Fontane gambols with Charlotte Margiono's superb Eglantine (the evening's revelation), and into which the ever-invasive soldiery implants its spears like dragon's teeth, sprouting to rip the set apart at the start of Act III. Stark, despite poor materials, this production came and went (more the latter), sprawling from banally routine, ritually predictable Pountney to dispersed moments of real insight and stillness. The funereal opening worked well; Emma's ubiquitous floating ghost (Tine Joustre), not quite.

The Dutch baritone Wolfgang Brendel, a Bayreuth Wolfram, made a vocally shivering Lysiart, crazily humiliated by Euryanthe, a Sean Connery-looking Kaspar, smarting for revenge. Jorma Silvasti, a needlessly bumbling, elderly Adolar, sang the arias appealingly. Frode Olsen's King Louis intoned exquisitely in ludicrous garb.

But it was Gerd Albrecht's uncut concert performance of Dvorak's opera Vanda that really grabbed the jugular. This is amazing, newly matured Dvorak, composed in the fruitful mid-1870s, between the Fifth Symphony and Stabat Mater. It's riddled with Wagner, as the best, undervalued mid-period Dvorak is. It would stage as well as Meyerbeer. And it is subversive: the Polish setting (Slav Queen rejects domineering German alliance for lower-caste Czech lover, and self-immolates to save her nation) was as dicey a piece of national propaganda amid Austrian domination as Smetana's Brandenburgers, Erkel's Bank Ban or Dvorak's own Hymnus.

Albrecht's cast was searing and magnificent, especially the mezzo Irina Tchistjakova and the tenor Peter Straka. The orchestra was searing; the drama never slipped for a second: chilling, thrilling - an opera that the repertoire deserves.

'Euryanthe' runs to 22 June (00 31 20 625 5455)