Sometimes you stumble upon these marvelous little delights; bright gems that bear witness to the power and importance of sincerity and love, both in daily life and within the art itself. Izaline Calister and the Volksoperahuis’ new musical “Geen liefde zonder vrijheid” (No Love Without Freedom) is one of those rare gems. Touring throughout the Netherlands in the Summer of 2013 to celebrate 150 years of abolition, “Geen liefde zonder vrijheid” is a tribute to Curaçao’s resilient forefathers and mothers set to percussion — an unadulterated heart resonating throughout generations.
The musical takes us two centuries back in time to the island of Curaçao in the 18th century. Mosa Nena is the most beautiful – and most coveted – slave woman of the plantation. She ‘buys’ herself a better life by sacrificing her body to the ‘shon’ (the slave owner), much to his wife’s chagrin. When the shon buys a new slave (Buchi Fil) from a downtown estate and brings him into the mix, the traditional slave-master relations go awry. Buchi Fil rebels and refuses to be oppressed, despite the harsh whippings he receives. Mosa Nena warns him as to the danger he’s putting the rest of the slaves in. But it’s Buchi Fil who ultimately puts a mirror to Mosa Nena, confronting her with her conformism, urging her not to accept her deplorable fate.
‘Geen liefde zonder vrijheid’ demonstrates the power of traditional musical storytelling, by focusing entirely on the seamless cadence between the musical instruments, the storyteller, the singers and the engaging and vivacious words written by Jef Hofmeister. A simple canvas backdrop depicting the Caribbean horizon, a wooden palm tree, a pair of weathered shutters and some sand on the floor are all that’s needed to turn the tiny circus tent on the festival grounds into the perfect setting to immerse the audience in a lifelike witnessing of this tragic love story.
The placement of the performers in a half circle split in two, underlines the controversy of the time. To one side of the stage are the black percussionists dressed in white; while on the opposite side are the white members of the Dudok String Quartet, dressed in black. In the middle is the main character Mosa Nena, beautifully performed by Izaline Calister, dressed in a bright red summer dress with a flower in her hair. On the far ends of the half-moon shape are two adversaries: the energetic storyteller Raymi Sambo, who also plays the role of Thomá di Kenepa (Buchi Fil) and Kees Scholten who effortlessly switches between the roles of the shon, his wife and a witty Amsterdam folk singer.
Moving back and forth between their basic position and the center of the stage, Calister, Scholten and Sambo each add equal parts of dramatic conviction, melancholy and lucky for us also humor and fun to the performance, which makes this sad story more bearable. While not in their individual roles, all the actors and musicians remain on stage and in full view of the audience for the entire duration of the piece, participating as spectators from the opposite side of the circular tent. Mirroring their reactions and emotions to the audience, this creates a wonderful tension that demands one’s undivided attention from beginning to end.
Compassion in human coexistence, beyond the barriers of collectively instilled resentment, is theatrically underlined in an ingenious manner by director Kees Scholten. Mosa Nena falls in mad, passionate love with Buchi Fil and the show reaches its climax when Buchi Fil hears of the shon’s retaliation. He leaves the stage in dismay and after only a brief moment of inner deliberation, Nena walks over to the large storybook set on a stand at the edge of the stage. She turns a few pages and then determinedly continues the story where Buchi Fil left off, already knowing how it ends, but keeping the audience waiting for it, until the very last moment.
Coming out of the cozy circus tent in a serene state, contemplating what I had just seen, I caught the observant critic in me trying to find something in the show that wasn’t to my liking, but I couldn’t. Right in that moment I realized that sometimes, something is simply perfect just the way it is…
Geen liefde zonder vrijheid is a production of musical theatre collective ‘Volksoperahuis’
For play dates, please follow this link: http://het.volksoperahuis.nl/?page_id=236
Idea: Izaline Calister
Director: Kees Scholten
Text: Jef Hofmeister
Music: Izaline Calister and Jef Hofmeister
Storyteller: Jörgen Raymann/Raymi Sambo
Lead Singers/Actors: Izaline Calister en Kees Scholten
String arrangements: Marc Bischoff
Musicians: Roël Calister (percussion), Vernon Chatlein (percussion), the Dudok String Quartet, Ed Verhoeff (gitar)
Dance: Untold Empowerment