New Opera: Rembrandt's Wife premiering in Melbourne

Andrew Ford's new opera Rembrandt's Wife to a libretto by Sue Smith will have its world premiere as part of Victorian Opera's 2009 season. Gary Rowley will star as Rembrandt and Jacqueline Porter as both his late wife, Saskia, and his muse and lover Hendrickje Stoffels. Roxane Hislop sings the role of Geertje Dircx and Paul Biencourt sings the six tenor roles.

Rembrandt's Wife is a compelling story that explores the tragic relationships of one of the world's greatest painters: the death of his beloved wife Saskia, the madness of his lover Geertje and the haunting visions of his muse to be, Hendrijke. A chamber opera, this work will reflect in words and music the light and colour that are the hallmarks of Rembrandt's style.

Fiona Gruber has an interesting article in The Australian:

A note accompanying his later work mentioned that, after being lionised for many years as the greatest living painter, Rembrandt fell from favour and into bankruptcy. The only thing he had left to sell was the headstone and burial plot for his wife, Saskia.

He did so to pay for the grave of his housemaid and mistress Hendrickje Stoffels, the third woman in Rembrandt's difficult domestic arrangements. A former love interest, his son's nursemaid Geertje Dircx, had been locked up after suing her master for breach of a promise to marry.

"I found myself thinking, 'You're a bastard', and enjoyed making him a bastard, as no one knows what he was really like," Smith says. "We do know that he was also endearingly contemptuous of many things, the mediocrity of other artists, the hypocrisy of the Calvinist regime."
Sue Smith tells how the idea came about and what she is trying to say with her libretto about Rembrandt here.

Andrew Ford is a composer, writer and broadcaster and has won awards in all three capacities. Born in Liverpool, England in 1957, he was educated at the University of Lancaster. He has composed orchestral and chamber music, operas and music-theatre pieces, and a wide range of vocal and solo instrumental works. His music has been featured internationally at such festivals as Adelaide, Aspen, Ferrara, Houston, Istanbul, Kuhmo, Melbourne, Seoul, Sydney and at Salzburg's Aspekte. All the major Australian orchestras have played his works, and so have groups such as the Brodsky Quartet, the London Sinfonietta, the Australia Ensemble, Het Trio, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the New Juilliard Ensemble. His piano pieces have been played by Peter Donohoe, Lisa Moore, Gerard Willems and Michael Kieran Harvey, while his vocal music has been sung by Sarah Leonard, Lyndon Terracini, Merlyn Quaife and, above all, Gerald English, for whose voice Ford composed more than a dozen pieces.

Victorian Opera: Rembrandt's Wife

Date: Saturday, 18 April 2009, 7:30pm
Venue: Merlyn Theatre — The CUB Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank, VIC
Tickets: $50-$32 (concession) — Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone on 1300 723 038


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