Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe (°1995) is a performer, countertenor and director of operatic and visual shows with radical scenographies. He interweaves elements from opera with pop, electronics, ballet and performance, and sees theatre as an echo chamber in which old and new forms exist interchangeably. “I'm conducting a conversation between the past and the present, rather than coming here to burn the place down.” Benjamin is not interested in presenting a clash of styles, but in ‘connecting’: his work builds bridges between genres, art movements, artists and audiences.
After graduating from the Toneelacademie Maastricht Institute of Performative Arts in 2018, Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe dove virtually immediately into the world of opera. With its fusion of music and drama, it provides the ideal biotope for the intense emotions that Meirhaeghe invariably focuses on in his work. Because of his love of the genre, Meirhaeghe also wants to break it open and rewrite it. The time-honoured music must be freed from the yoke of tradition; it must become music of the present. "Art and repertoire are much more fascinating in a kind of relay in which others take over from where you left off than in an everlasting repetition of covers." Meirhaeghe sees it as a challenge to combine parts of classical pieces with new symbols and radical sounds. This results in deeply sensitive, overwhelming performances with the power of rituals that resonate with today's world.
For his shows, Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe works with a colourful crew both on and off stage. He aims to bring together people who at first glance have no relation with each other at all, but who for that very reason can step into a new world together and thus represent the future. In his work, you hear dancers singing and see singers dancing. In one move, he thus questions notions of musical perfection and virtuosity. This unusual combination of performers also attracts a mixed audience, one of Meirhaeghe's main goals. He wants to draw both the world of pop and classical concert audiences into the theatre.
With Opera Ballet Vlaanderen in 2020, he created A Revue, a retro-futuristic, queer cabaret in which aliens unearth opera's lost artefacts. This visually stunning show was selected for the TheatreFestival 2021. That year also featured the ritualistic concert Spectacles, a performance and a record album, that combined relentless beats, smouldering love songs, Meirhaeghe's delicate countertenor and jazz and gospel influences. Together with producer Laurens Mariën and dancer Hanako Hayakawa, he turned the concert into a theatrical experience.
In early 2022, Madrigals premiered. Here, Meirhaeghe worked Claudio Monteverdi's effervescent vocal works about war and love, Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, into a cry for freedom fuelled by militancy and passion, and mixed them with Jesse Kanda's experimental pop.
His first creation for Toneelhuis was Ode to a Love Lost (2023). This production, based on Meirhaeghe's own personal love story, is set in the deep crater of a heart.
Now we can look forward to Shelly Shonk Fiffit, which will premiere at Toneelhuis in January 2024. This show is driven by a double artistic motor: the hypnotic electronic music of Italian composer Caterina Barbieri and the James Webb space telescope, one of the most spectacular human inventions of this century.
As of this year, Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe is co-artistic director of Toneelhuis, together with Lisaboa Houbrechts, Gorges Ocloo, FC Bergman and Olympique Dramatique.