Elisabeth in Concert – An Unforgettable Experience

In the Spring of 1884 Empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known as Sisi, spent six weeks in the Netherlands for medical treatment. She also planned several visits to interesting places, like the Artis Zoo, the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch palaces. The Empress was on a private visit. King Willem III and Queen Emma were told of the visit, but a meeting wasn’t planned. However the Empress did visit the then uninhabited Palaces of Huis ten Bosch and Soestdijk. And on Monday 9 June 1884 she paid a private visit to Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn. With her entourage of four people she arrived by train at 2.19pm. Per carriage she travelled to the Hotel De Keizerskroon, almost near the palace. After a meal she visited the palace, the park and toured the woods of Soeren. After a short walk at the Loolaan she took the 8.13pm train back to Amsterdam. She would meet the King and Queen as well as Princess Wilhelmina on 21 March 1885 at the Palace Noordeinde in Den Haag during her next Dutch visit.

Little could she have known that almost exactly 133 years after her visit to Palace Het Loo she would once again be celebrated at the inner court of the palace she visited back then, and might well have set foot on herself. From 12 to 17 June 2017 “Elisabeth in Concert’, a unique open air concert version of the musical “Elisabeth”, was being held on that spot. More than 30.000 people visited the eight performances, 4000 visitors per concert. In October 2000 – leave it to my mother to know exactly when we went – my mother and I visited the musical “Elisabeth” at the Circus Theater in Scheveningen.

But when I heard about this new one-time concert last year I just needed to go. The location was simply perfect. And for once the original cast from 1999 with Pia Douwes as Elisabeth (she played her also in the original Austrian version), Jeroen Phaff as Emperor Franz Joseph, Stanley Burleson as the Death, Wim van den Driessche as Luigi Lucheni (Elisabeth’s murderer), Doris Baaten as Archduchess Sophie of Austria, and Addo Kruizinga as Crown Princess Rudolf (the adult one).

Originally there would only be three evening concerts on 15, 16 and 17 June 2017. Me and History of Royal Women booked as quick as we could and got ourselves some rather nice, but also pretty expensive places, a bit to the side (the middle would have been the best we found out on Friday, but they were already sold out when we got ours). We had tickets for Friday 16 June and got ourselves a hotel room in the neighbourhood as soon as we could, as the concert ended late and it would be almost impossible to return home afterwards. We met up in the late afternoon, had dinner and then headed to Het Loo for the concert. You had to be in before 8.30pm, and about 9.00pm the concert finally started. It was of course not the full original musical that was being performed. For that the stage was too small as it had to hold the actors/singers and the orchestra. But it was also much more than a concert, as there was some acting of course anyway to keep the story alive.

Pia Douwes got better and better during the show, and we had a good laugh the first time Franz Joseph entered the stage, as he had somewhat of a belly. We were surprised several times. When it was time for the coronation of Elisabeth and Franz Joseph as King and Queen of Hungary – on 8 June 1867, almost to the day 150 years ago – the Empress arrived in a gorgeous Hungarian inspired gown in a carriage from the back of the stands. Also when Archduke Rudolf died, a hearse was driven from the back to the front. A few times actors left the stage to the joy of the people sitting in the front rows in the middle – which were the parts less visible for people sitting on the sides like me. And one time the Death just passed me on his way from the stands to the stage again. Only around 10.30pm the concert had ended, without a break, and we slowly left for our hotel. It had been an amazing evening, and luckily it had stayed dry, although it wasn’t really warm later in the evening.

On Saturday morning we paid a short visit to the palace, that is already well-known to us. You had to get in via the side entrance near the restaurant, instead of through the main gate. But it was possible to have a look at the concert area from the side. I of course did take a picture of the “Hungarian” carriage that was standing in the back. When collecting our bags from the garderobe, I noticed some robes from the musical hanging on the side. I of course couldn’t resist taking some pictures of the robe of the Archbishop that marries Elisabeth and Franz Joseph, and some dresses worn by the ladies in the show.

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