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Nonesuch Records releases Writing to Vermeer, an opera with music by Louis Andriessen and libretto by Peter Greenaway. Reinbert de Leeuw conducts the Asko Ensemble and Schönberg Ensemble, with soloists soprano Susan Narucki (Catharina Bolnes), mezzo soprano Susan Bickley, (Maria Thins), and soprano Barbara Hannigan (Saskia de Vries), along with the children’s choir, De Kickers, from Amsterdam’s Muziekschool Waterland, a women’s chorus, and Michel van der Aa’s electronic music inserts.

Writing to Vermeer was given its world premiere by De Nederlandse Opera in 1999 at Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam, in a production co-directed by Greenaway and Saskia Boddeke; it was first heard in the U.S. at the 2000 Lincoln Center Festival.

The opera is set in 1672, the year Dutch history books describe as “The Year of Disaster.” France, England, and the German bishoprics of Munster and Cologne declared war against the Netherlands and conquered large parts of the country. The dikes were breached, and the Prince of Orange retreated behind the water defense line around the western province of Holland. Trade and industry came to a standstill. It was the largest financial crash in the Dutch Republic’s short history and marked the end of the Dutch Golden Age. The opera ends in a deluge depicting the last desperate act of the Dutch to keep their country from invasion: the breaking of the dikes. Peter Greenaway, who had long been fascinated by Johannes Vermeer, based Writing to Vermeer on a series of fictitious letters addressed to the painter from three women: his real mother-in-law and his real wife, and a model (a fictional character). The letters are sent to the painter in May 1672, when he had traveled to The Hague to attempt to authenticate several dubious Italian paintings purchased by the Grand Elector of Brandenburg. The opera explores the stark contrast between the serene domestic world of Vermeer’s life and paintings, with their tasteful distilled interiors, and the turbulent events of the time.

Composer: Louis Andriessen
Conductor: Reinbert de Leeuw
Performer: Susan Bickley, Barbara Hannigan, Susan Narucki, Marijje van Stralen, Marjolein Niels, et al.
Orchestra: ASKO Ensemble, Schoenberg Ensemble
Audio CD (April 11, 2006)

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