Salome at Dutch National Opera

Malin Bystrom as Salome (Photo: Dutch National Opera above)

At the Dutch National Opera last night we saw a Salome of Richard Strauss that was nothing short of sensational. This was the sort of operatic performance, opera buffs dream of! The Salome was Malin Bystrom, a Swedish soprano with the sort of high effortless sound that cuts through the huge orchestra and never falters. In a truly terrifying performance, looking like a spoilt young demi-mondaine in a slinky white dress, and having been delivered with the blood soaked body of John the Baptist, she staggers through the pool of blood and lies on top of him singing her final phrases with thrilling and abandoned assurance. At the final curtain, the shocked silence finally broke into endless cheers and roars. It was the premiere of a brilliantly simple but dramatic new production by Ivo van Hove, featuring the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a rare appearance in the pit conducted by their new music director Daniele Gatti.

Bach’s Goldberg Variations on Ivo Janssen’s houseboat

Ivo Janssen playing Bach in his boat (above)

On a perfect sunny evening on our second day in Amsterdam, we all walked down the street next to a broad canal heading for Ivo Janssen’s houseboat. To my great surprise, we were suddenly joined by Servaas van Beekum, my good Dutch friend from Sydney, visiting his family in his home town of Amsterdam. He was with his and his daughter Silke and we all crowded on to a large house-boat crowned with a fully fledged garden across its entire roof. Ivo, one of Holland’s leading pianists, had become sick of dealing with agents and travelling the world playing concerts, so decided to convert an old concrete barge to both a home and an intimate concert hall. Over several years, he rebuilt it himself with help from friends and it is now a beautiful double level recital hall seating 140 people, and includes his own apartment at one end of the boat.

We were treated to a mesmerising performance of one of the greatest works of the keyboard repertoire, JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Having met Ivo some years before through out mutual friend Don Ross, I rang him from Sydney to ask if he would play for our group and he agreed provided we didn’t mind if he sold the remaining tickets to the public. Asking me what I’d like him to play, I had no hesitation in asking for the Goldbergs. It was an evening none of will forget and afterwards I bought his recording of all Bach’s keyboard works – on a set of 20 CDs!

Tages Alte Musik Festival. Regensburg

We have just arrived in Amsterdam from Regensburg, after four days of their fabulous annual festival Tages Alte Musik. Regensburg is an ancient mediaeval town in Bavaria that is one of the very few in Germany to escape the destruction of World War II and its streets of old baroque houses, leaning buildings, and magnificent churches give you an uncanny sense of being in another ancient world.

Over four days, 16 concerts are given in these extraordinary old churches and mediaeval halls, mostly large, and even cavernous, and some with the most extravagant rococo decoration. Hearing wonderful, mostly unfamiliar music from the 15th to 18th centuries, mostly featuring period instrument and vocal ensembles from all over Europe, was really inspiring and gave us many touches of the sublime in music. Particularly memorable for me were Musica Fiata & La Capella Ducale in a re-creation of a Mass for the Reformation festival in Dresden in 1617 at the Dreieinigkeitskirche, Ensemble Alia Mens singing Bach cantatas at the amazing Church of out Lady, and the English vocal ensemble the Gesualdi Six singing Tudor music of England late at night in the huge Scottish Church. As a contrast to all the early music in these solemn and beautiful churches, we had a whole day in the magnificent countryside including a spectacular boat trip down the Danube gorge.