Woutertje Pieterse


Music theatre based on the novel by Multatuli. Medium orchestra, 9 soloists, smaller roles

UA: 4/6/1988, Rotterdam, Rotterdam Philharm. Orchestra, Cond.: Lucas Vis, Soloists a.o.: Bert Luttjeboer, Carel Alphenaar, Marianne Blok, Thea van der Putten, Ellen van Lier, Charles van Tassel, Maarten Koningsberger, Karstien Hovingh

CD: Woutertje Pieterse, BVHAAST 9401/2

WOUTERTJE PIETERSE (1985-87) has been composed on a novel by MULTATULI (1820-1887), undoubtedly the most important writer of the Netherlands. In his novel ‘Max Havelaar’ he scourged Dutch colonialism in Indonesia.

His novel ‘Woutertje Pieterse’ relates the destruction of an ingenious, dreamy child’s soul by petty bourgeois education. Does such a cynical anatomy of Dutch 19th-century petty-bourgeoisie ideology lean itself for an ‘opera’? No! For this reason the dramaturgic concept of my music theatre contains lots of elements from the ‘musical’.

Little Wouter is surrounded by middle-class figures which resemble crows, snakes, foxes or wolves more than human beings. There you have them of all kinds: the hysterical mother, the pedantic brother, the Scripture-read woman next door, the drunken vicar and the narrow-minded Kopperlith family. They all want to model little Wouter according to their own image. 

The more Wouter tries to escape into the world of his dreams, the more he walks into the trap of pettybourgeois ‘morality’. Until they break him at the end of the piece: his opening and smashing of an umbrella leads to the final catastrophe. The rich adults – lamenting about this irreplaceable loss of some guilders – recall all of Wouter’s sins and crimes and consider him totally unfit of entering into a ‘normal’ life.

‘Opera’ or ‘Musical’? It is impossible to use ‘belcanto’ or expressionist ways of singing. The music , though truly of our time, is a pandemonium of the entire musical garbage which filled the happy hours of Dutch 19th-century middle-class: deformed rags of high-brow music, patriotic songs, tearjerkers etc. are put into the dramatic game. Instead of belcanto I used the voices according to the way they would have sounded if coming out of the throats of real people of that kind and of that time.

Even if they try to sing as their musical ‘idols’, they do it stubbornly and wrong. It took me a lot of time to explain to the very professional singers of this production to forget all about their singer’s education… The work was premiered on June 4, 1988 for the Opening of the Municipal Theatre, Rotterdam.