Sunday, February 06, 2011

Amsterdam and the Vixen

Just back from 3 days in Amsterdam where we had gone to see The Cunning Little Vixen. Stayed at a v nice family-owned hotel called The Toren which was notable for the exceptionally helpful and positive attitude of the staff. On Friday we went to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.

The Van Gogh has 4 lovely Redons on display including Buddah (in his youth) and 2 outstanding paintings in the form of triptychs that I can’t find on the web.

The Rijksmusem is being refurbished (we can all come back in 2013) but they have a small section on display including of course The Nightwatchmen, The Milkmaid, two Rembrandt self-portraits (as a young man and as St Paul – when he was my age!) and this astonishing picture by Cornelis Claesz – “The explosion of the Spanish flagship during the battle of Gibraltar, 25 April 1607”. I’ve subsequently read the excellent Sea Battles and Naval Heroes in the 17th Century Dutch Republic by Peter Sigmond and Wouter Kloek which is absolutely fascinating, with an excellent combination of art-history and history, and outstanding illustrations. That evening we had dinner at the de Lewte which was a real gem, simple food simply cooked to perfection.

Saturday I joined a running group for two laps of Vondel Park, and what with running there from the Hotel and then to the swimming pool managed to get something approaching a normal Saturday quota. That evening with had dinner with the delightful Rosemary Joshua at a superb little restaurant called Zuid Zeeland. Rosemary had generously donated two tickets to her Vixen to the auction in memory of Anthony Leggate which we were fortunate enough to secure.

On Sunday we went to the Jesuit church where the Mass was mostly in Latin – though of course the sermon was in Dutch and thus a good opportunity for meditation. Then to the Rembrandt House which gives a remarkable feel for the conditions under which he worked. He paid 13,000 guilders for this house but alas fell behind on his mortgage and indeed was declared bankrupt* in 1656. The good news for posterity is that all his possessions had to be inventoried and sold so we have a great deal of evidence which has allowed the reconstruction. Though it does seem a terrible shame that arguably the greatest artist of his generation, and certainly of his country, should have suffered such an indignity. Although the average labourer’s income was only 300 guilders a year, leading artists could ask for 6,000 Guilders for a painting and get 2,400. However Rembrandt was also an art dealer and spent quite extravagantly, and it is a basic and sad fact of economics that whatever your income may be it is always possible to spend more.

There was a demonstration of how Rembrandt made his prints, in the actual room that he used, and I was able to turn the handle. I asked if I could buy the actual print but alas not, however I could buy another copy which I did. These are made from v careful reproductions of Rembrandt’s original plates – many of which still exist (and could in principle be used to make more Rembrandts). BTW it has often occurred to me that Museums could make a great deal of money by offering to sell reproductions of essentially any object either held or depicted in their collections. Just think of what people might pay for a milk jug identical, as far as possible, to the one in The Milkmaid for example.

Then to The Cunning Little Vixen or Het Sluwe Vosje. This was an absolute triumph, an astonishing production that really should tour to another great opera house. Rosemary is of course outstanding in the title role, which in the production involves a great deal of running around as well as some beautiful and very demanding singing. Her flirtations with the Forrester, her feral moments killing a rabbit and chickens , her disdain of the dog and other sub-standard specimens and her courtship with the fox were all superb. And her death from a shot from the Poacher was really moving. The whole cast was very strong, clearly enjoying themselves a lot and building on each others strengths. Dale Duesing at the Forrester was particularly fine, but there wasn’t a single performance below par.

* According to the Rembrandt House Museum. Wikipedia says there was a court arrangement to avoid bankruptcy, probably more accurate.

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