Review: Crazy Days (2021)

Crazy Days (2021)

Directed by: Sanne Rovers | 67 minutes | documentary

In November 2020, Dutch National Opera would stage a performance of the opera buffa (comedy opera) ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1786). As is the case with major opera productions, it had already been worked on for a few years and the performances were practically sold out in advance. But when the orchestra and international star cast come together in Amsterdam in the autumn of 2020 to rehearse for real, there is of course a pandemic and it is by no means certain that the performances could actually take place. At that time, documentary maker Sanne Rovers joined in. To paint a picture of the bizarre days up to the least certain premiere.

The unease and hecticness is immediately apparent. There is fumbling with mouth caps, players are immediately warned if they come within one and a half meters of each other and are turned on their heads if they forget to disinfect their hands. The corona measures imposed by the Dutch government must be followed as strictly as possible, so that things cannot fall into the water in any case. But behind the scenes there is a lot of unrest, because every new press conference can throw a spanner in the works. Of course, this also has repercussions on the cast.

For example, 26-year-old Polly Leech enthusiastically tells that Cherubino is the role she has always wanted to play and that he comes at the perfect time. “Then you have to think about the pandemic for a while, but if it continues in 2020, then it’s the perfect moment,” she says hopefully, straight into the camera. Rovers deliberately lets the image rest on Leech’s face just a little too long, whereupon the despair and uncertainty begin to show itself more clearly with every second. After all, her potential breakthrough is in doubt. Because of her apparent open-mindedness and candor, Leech is a grateful subject and frequently returns to the picture.

Who also gets a lot of screen time, but is a little less well understood, is the Italian baritone Davide Luciona, who plays de Graaf. He is regularly portrayed on the phone (presumably with the home front, but it is never made explicit) or smoking outside with fellow Italian Riccardo Minasi, who conducts the orchestra. While he initially seems to deal with the situation fairly phlegmatically, it gradually becomes clear that even for an experienced rotten like him, the uncertainty is physically and mentally debilitating. Minasi, in turn, mainly speaks about the unimaginable corona policy in the Netherlands towards other countries, as if the country is a “happy oasis”. A welcome context, which is rarely offered.

The documentary remains tight with this one opera company, so the discussion about how the Dutch government deals with the culture sector as a whole is not stimulated either. The way in which the company is in any case still able to make a video registration through a direct line with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, while performances are otherwise prohibited, is not denounced, only presented ‘as is’. This makes ‘Crazy Days’ primarily a documentary about a hectic period at Dutch National Opera and nothing more than that. An interesting time frame for a very specific club.

Within that framework, Rovers has delivered a beautiful document. The documentary is interspersed not only with images of an empty opera house, but also with specially staged pieces of singing behind the scenes, for example at the bar or in the wings between the set pieces. It creates an alienating atmosphere and makes the loneliness palpable that the players already experience in such large productions, far from home, isolated from family and friends, and which comes in even harder because of corona. When towards the end the champagne glasses are raised to an almost empty room, the disappointment drips from it. Is an opera without an audience really an opera?

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