De Grens (The Border)
The year is 1918: World War I is nearing its end. The German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, arrives at the Dutch border as an exile from his own country, seeking asylum in the Netherlands. However, the Dutch government was not notified in advance of the Kaiser’s arrival and takes its time to decide whether the royal visitor is welcome.
Pending the government’s decision, the Kaiser (mezzo-soprano Eva Kroon) is stuck at the railway station of Eijsden, a small town at the southern border of the Netherlands. At the station, he meets the station manager (soprano Ginette Puylaert), a man whose character, lineage and political views are in complete dissonance with those of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two gentlemen have a fiery discussion, but despite all the differences, they have one thing in common: a total lack of control over their own situation.
A historical event with a contemporary twist, wrapped into a compact chamber opera: De Grens is an attractive performance of 25 up to 45 minutes that brings new music close to the audience. The length is flexible because the two scenes can be performed separately. Due to its small setup – two singers and five instrumentalists – De Grens can be performed both in concert halls and on less traditional locations, such as industrial buildings or living rooms, and even multiple times on the same day. The chamber opera makes use of unique film material from 1918, supplemented with new footage.
Cast & crew
Eva Kroon and Ginette Puylaert, who play the two male characters, are highly accomplished singers on their way to the top of the opera world, and both participated in young talent projects at the Dutch National Opera. They are accompanied by violinist Pieter van Loenen (Finalist and Audience Prize winner Dutch National Violin Competition 2016) and the ensemble But What About, who together form an active part of the dramaturgy. The ensemble But What About consists of clarinet, accordion, double bass and percussion and won the Grote Kamermuziekprijs 2016 of the conservatories of The Hague and Rotterdam.
The music has been composed by the young Dutch composer Jan-Peter de Graaff, based on a libretto by Yuri Robbers. The performance is directed by Saskia Bonarius. Film images have been shot and mixed with original 1918 footage by Caroline Keman.
The resulting 25-minute chamber opera De Grens premiered in Vught on April 22nd and was met with spectacularly enthusiastic responses. The entire cast & crew of this chamber opera agreed that this project was so special – and the suspense with regard to the Kaiser’s fate so unbearable – that a second scene has been created, making a full-length performance of De Grens last a good 45 minutes.
music: Jan-Peter de Graaff
libretto: Yuri Robbers
director: Saskia Bonarius
Kaiser Wilhelm II: Eva Kroon (mezzo-soprano)
station manager: Ginette Puylaert (soprano)
music performed by: But What About,
featuring on violin: Pieter van Loenen
bass clarinet: Vincent Martig
accordion: Wilco Oomkes
percussion: Antonio Pierna García
double bass: Julián Sarmiento Escobar
film and images: Caroline Keman