10 JUNE 2022: 401Concerts 27 • Beethoven/Nieuwenhuizen: VESTAS FEUER

VestasAffiche1Date: 10 June 2022.
Location: Buitensociëteit De Hanzehof, Zutphen
Hour: 8.45 PM
Cast: Barbara Schilstra (Volivia), Renate Arends (Sericia), Marcel Reijans (Sartagones), Timothy Veryser (Malo) and Nanco de Vries (Porus), Apollo Ensemble.
Reconstruction: 401NederlandseOperas/Cees Nieuwenhuizen.
Partners: Beethoven Festival Zutphen, Apollo Ensemble, Gemeente Zutphen
Special thanks: Jolien De Gendt (promo 2020, casting 2022, support), Denzil Delaere (trailer 2020, support), Pieter Dhoore (trailer 2020, support), Annett Andriesen (casting support), Diny Tecker (correcties).
Art design:
Lilian van de Zande


Beethoven/Cees Nieuwenhuizen – VESTAS FEUR (1803)

On Friday 10 June 2022 401DutchOperas presents a first try-out of Beethoven's opera torso Vestas Feuer in the Hanzehof Zutphen (Netherlands), within the Beethoven Festival there. Vestas Feuer has been rediscovered in the context of the Dutch Operas project of 401DutchOperas's artistic director René Seghers. Vestas Feuer – Beethoven's first opera – was composed to a text by Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of Die Zauberflöte. The reconstruction is not limited to the first scene, but includes all sketches for the remainder of scenes 2 and 8, which brings two completely new, hauntingly beautiful Beethoven arias for Malo and Sericia. Malo’s Aria ‘Hört Rache-Götter mir’ precedes Loge and Mime. Faced with prosecution, Sericia’s aria ‘Ich flieh zur heil’gen Hain’ balances fear and hope in the face of evil. The reconstruction was made possible after Seghers rediscovered Schikaneder’s complete libretto.

Seghers: “When I took the complete libretto to Cees Nieuwenhuizen, one of the world’s leading experts in Beethoven reconstructions, the more than 80 sketches fell exactly into place, resulting in the current reconstruction. This brings the interpreters Barbara Schilstra, Renate Arends, Marcel Reijans, Timothy Veryser and Nanco de Vries directly in line with the likes of Carl Demmer and Anna Milder. To be clear: this is not a fantasy reconstruction. The sketches were nearly complete for the reconstructed new scenes. This is all Beethoven’s music. The first scene has moreover been completed according to Beethoven’s instructions, which has never been done before.”

Beethoven born in... Zutphen?

The 401DutchOperas Foundation reconstructed Vestas Feuer in relation to Seghers's 401DUtchOperas compendium, wich looks into the theory that Beethoven was born in Zutphen 1772 instead of in Bonn 1770. Seghers: 'The book lists all the pros, cons and missing links. From these, readers may draw their own conclusions. To be clear, Beethoven would not become Dutch if he actually happened to be born by mere chance at a Zutphen fair in 1772, where his parents were allegedly performing then. More important was my 'discovery' of Beethoven’s little known opera torso Vestas Feuer, from right before Fidelio. This work was composed on a text by Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of Die Zauberflöte, and the first Papageno. The first scene of Vestas Feuer has been known among a select number of musicologists since its discovery in the mid 1950s, but when I learned that there were supposedly more than 80 sketches beyond the  first scene that no one had ever seriously studied, my imagination ran wild.'

The reconstruction of Vestas Feuer beyond scene 1

CeesNieuwenhuizenWebBy 2019 Seghers contacted the Dutch Beethoven specialist Cees Nieuwenhuizen, who proved equally fascinated by the torso. The problem with the sketches was that they were scribbled around the pages of Beethoven’s sketchbooks, in bits and pieces. With the libretto missing beyond the first scene, the sketches were useless. It was only after Seghers tracked down the original textbook in Vienna that those sketches naturally fitted two completely unknown new Beethoven opera arias from scene 2 and scene 8, Malo’s 'Hört Rache-Götter mir' and Sericia’s 'Ich flieh zur heil'gen Hain'. The music of Vestas Feuer surprised Seghers: ‘Beethoven thought it was just an adventure story, but the text inspired him to remarkable melodies, such as the trio 'Nie war ich so froh wie Heute'. Indeed, he reused this trio in Fidelio with only slightly modified text: 'Nie ward es so hoch besungen', one of his most famous melodies! From Vestal Virgin to 'Retterin des Gatten sein' turns out to be a small leap in music. With preliminary studies for the duet Leonore-Florestan and an opening that anticipates Die Walküre, the Vestas Feuer torso is a surprising work. Beethoven's music gave Schikaneder's text an extra dimension and bridges the gap between Die Zauberflöte and Fidelio.'

Nieuwenhuizen reconstructed both the first scene and the two new arias exactly according to Beethoven's instructions. Nieuwenhuizen: ‘The arias are complete. They are grand standing, spectacular Beethoven arias. With the text in hand there was no music missing. These arias are absolute world premieres bringing the interpreters directly in line with the likes of Carl Demmer and Anna Milder, the first Florestan and Leonore. With the sketches we’ve more than doubled the music of Vestas Feuer as it was known to date.’

Nieuwenhuizen's meanwhile famous Beethoven reconstructions of the past decades, among them the very popular ‘Oboe Concerto’ and the ‘Piano Concerto Nr. 6’, have all been recognized by the Beethoven Haus Bonn. His reconstructions have been performed, among others, by such orchestras as the Rotterdam Philharmonic up to the Wiener Symphoniker and soloists such as Liza Ferschtman and Ronald Brautigam. On August 5, 2023, the Concinatti Chamber Orchestra under Eckart Preu with Awadagin Pratt as soloist will give the world-premiere of Nieuwenshuizens reconstruction of Beethovens 6th Piano Concerto. Seghers: ‘With Nieuwenhuizen doing the reconstruction for 401DutchOperas Vestas Feuer automatically became a German-Dutch work.'

Emanuel Schikaneder
Librettist and commissioner of Beethoven's first opera, Vestas Feuerr

Vestas Feuer's textbook deals with a Roman-oriental intrigue full of exciting plot twists around evil emperors, besieged maidens, murdering rivals, praying Vestal Virgins, fire-breathing temple statues, escapes via the Tiber, and so on. At the end of 1803 the first scene had been composed in draft and there were more than 80 sketches for the remainder of Act I on paper. Then he was given the Fidelio libretto, following which the Vestas Feuer draft disappeared in Beethoven's famous sketchbooks. Because Schikaneder sold his new Theater an der Wien shortly afterwards, Beethoven was ultimately given back his commission to compose an opening work, although Fidelio ultimately premiered at that very Theater an der Wien.

The Cast

CastFullWith401DutchOperas has assembled a outstanding cast for the Vestas Feuer try-out. Barbara Schilstra, the lyric-dramatic soprano of the company, sings the noble Roman beauty Volivia, musically a preliminary study for Beethoven's Leonore. Fire, passion and power come together in Schilstra's rendition.
           Sericia's captivating aria 'Ich flieh zum heil'gen Hain' holds no secrets for the renowned soprano Renate Arends, who, like Schilstra, has earned her laurels as a champion of Dutch opera. Haunted by evil men like Malo and Porus, Sericia must save herself by fleeing to Vesta's temple. Arends shares with us her journey between love, despair and fear.
           Fortunately for beautiful young noble women of Rome, there is always a gallant prince in opera coming to their rescue in the form of a sweet-voiced, heroic tenor. In this case Marcel Reijans. Not only is he madly in love with Volivia but in the process he is also the saviour of all possible young ladies in need. In preparation for Sartagones, Reijans recently sang countless Florestans in Fidelio, a part that sprang directly from Sartagones.
           Then the assailants, Porus and his base slave Malo. Porus only cares about money, status and power. He wants to marry off his daughter Volivia against her will. Influence, that's what all the bad guys in this bloodthirsty opera strive for. The opinion of the women in Vestas Feuer is rarely asked. Our villainous villain is the thundering bass Nanco de Vries. Tried and tested in the practice of murder & villainous evil, De Vries has never refused a role because it was not woke!
           Finally, there’s the evil evil genius who brings about all disaster, Malo. Being a direct predecessor of Loge and Mime, Malo is also a tenor role. And what a role! The word ‘villainous’ is an understatement in this case. Up-and-coming Flemish tenor talent Timothy Veryser could not suppress a demonic smile when reading the text of Malo's great revenge aria: 'Vernichten will ich sie, dem Vater wie das Kind!' Poor Malo, slave and yet in love with Volivia, a dazzling beauty of Roman nobility. To achieve his impossible goals there are only two options: kill everyone in his path, or perish. Experience the adventure and the outcome of all this madness from the feathered pen of Emanuel Schikaneder in the try-out of the 401DutchOperas/ Cees Nieuwenhuizen reconstruction of Beethoven's breath-taking opera torso Vestas Feuer. The orchestral accompanyment is entrusted to the Apollo Ensemble, which plays a reduction of the score that fits the ensemble, which for the occasion is enlerged ith trombone, trumpet and kettledrum.
         Special thanks are due to Twan van de Velde (tenor) and Anais Naharro-Murphy (soprano) for their support in the rehearsals.

Recording and objective

Because there are no recordings of 99% of the more than 400 pre-war Dutch operas, interested readers would never be able to hear a note of all those works after reading the compendium. That is why 401DutchOperas organizes concerts since 2015, with highlights from all kinds of Dutch operas. These concerts are recorded for release on CD, downloads and in the books themselves. The Vestas Feuer recording will be released on the CD in the compendium to be published in the DATO series by Lecturis in late 2022/early 2023. The relevant chapter deals in detail with the 2022 try-out, the genesis of Vestas Feuer and the 401DutchOperas reconstruction of it, as well as with Beethoven's alleged Dutch birth.


Date try-out: 10 JUNI 2022.
Location: Buitensociëteit De Hanzehof, Zutphen
Time: 20.45 uur.
Cast: Barbara Schilstra (Volivia), Renate Arends (Sericia), Marcel Reijans (Sartagones), Timothy Veryser (Malo) and Nanco de Vries (Porus) & Apollo Ensemble.
Reconstruction: 401NederlandseOperas/Cees Nieuwenhuizen.
Partners: Beethoven Festival Zutphen, Apollo Ensemble, Gemeente Zutphen