There’s quite a lot of doom-and-gloom at the Netherlands Opera thanks entirely to the massive cuts they are about to suffer. Fees are being slashed and the word is that if you’re not singing a major role then your only hope of working here is if you already live in Holland and are prepared to work for a pittance. So, a bit like England then. The new Dutch government wants the Arts to follow an American model of funding where rich patrons hand out vast endowments and have their names stuck on theatres as a reward. That’s all very well but I’m not sure that Holland boasts too many of the sort of billionaires who fund opera in the States. And besides, flaunting your wealth is not really a Dutch characteristic. I don’t see it catching on. There are very few statues in Amsterdam; people, even the eminent, are expected to know their place. Ostentation is greeted with derision and though the Dutch are rarely religious these days, the spirit of Calvinism still rules.
Still, things aren’t too bad at the moment. This production of Billy Budd is set in what is basically my old school, a naval college. When I heard that at the director’s introduction, I almost blacked out, so overcome was I by a sudden sense of panic and nostalgia.
More exciting though is a new branch of the “farmers’ supermarket” Marqt, just around the corner from the opera and en route back to my digs. It has a proper butcher’s counter and fish slab and the best selection of vegetables I’ve seen outside the Saturday market on Prinsengracht. The cheese table is also excellent.
I bought a couple of lamb shanks (not cheap though – £9 for them both) and slow-cooked them in red wine, onions, carrots and garlic. I ate one last night. It lay on a duvet of polenta, the dark gravy puddling around the edge, and was so tender my only cutlery was a spoon.