‘Today’s acting will also look outdated in a few decades’

As a flutist, Jed Wentz was used to being on stage, but acting turned out to be something completely different. When you play an instrument, the audience is actually looking at something they cannot see: the music. “But when you shop, they look at your body. The first time was awful.” Yet Wentz (1960) thought he should do it. As a music historian at Leiden University, he researches performance traditions in opera, voice art and lyric recitation and trains himself in the techniques he finds in ancient sources. “But you have to experience the interaction with the audience, otherwise you can not say anything about the effect of a technique or playing style.”

On Sunday, Wentz will perform at the Luther Museum in Amsterdam with a program of melodramas and poetry from around 1900. He is accompanied by Artem Belogurov on piano forte and Octavie Dostaler-Lalonde on cello. Friday, May 27, a completely different program where Wentz is involved in the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ: the screening of FW Murnau’s silent film Tartuff (1925) with live music by pianist Olga Pashchenko. Wentz composed the virtuoso score and delivers the live sound effects: When someone knocks on a door on the screen, Wentz knocks on a piece of wood. He affectionately calls such effects “naive”: “Just because anything is possible on screen these days, it’s wonderful to get lost in such a silent film.”

The melodrama concert at the Luther Museum bears the title The variegated Piper from Hamelin, but it’s not a children’s concert, Wentz emphasizes. He will perform a melodrama with lyrics by the poet Robert Browning, inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, and poems by Walt Whitman, Lord Byron and Edgar Allen Poe. There is music by, among others, Schumann and Debussy.


Melodrama (music with narrative) and silent films: they seem like very different sports, but Wentz explains that they are closely related. Both genres are rooted in a recital tradition, which we today quickly call ‘exaggerated’, or overreacts: big gestures, extreme facial expressions, worn recitation. Wentz: “It’s not for everyone and you do not have to like it, but why has that way of playing worked for centuries? And why are we no longer open to it? ”

Part of the answer to that question is our current visual culture. We are used to close-ups, different camera angles and fast editing. “Before the twentieth century, there was very different light, a little visibility. As an actor, you had to have a great voice to reach your audience. There are detailed resources about pitch and custom speech as an expressive tool. With specific facial expressions and gestures, you conveyed emotions. It was kind of body hack: The trick was to let the spectators really experience these emotions. We can no longer tolerate such sentimentality, or only if it is ironic, as with Brecht. “

Music historian and allocationist Jed Wentz: “Recitation was about conveying emotions.”

Photo Lars van den Brink

Wentz takes the current acting style’s pretext of realism with a grain of salt. “If you study old sources, you will read again and again that people think that there really is a naturalistic acting style. Performing today will also look dated in a couple of decades. ”


Wentz was born in the United States, in 1982 he moved to the Netherlands and since 1990 he has Dutch citizenship. His ambition is to help young people from all walks of life learn to speak: “You do not have to read Aristotle and Quintillian, rhetoric is about speaking well, with a free voice. It’s something for everyone that empowers people authentically. “

In December, Wentz organizes for the first time a three-day theater festival in Leiden, nicknamed Over acting, a collaboration with Leiden University and the Utrecht Early Music Festival, to which he is affiliated as a consultant.

Wentz tells an anecdote about eighteenth-century actor Jan Punt, who was famous for a particular monologue: “When Punt had spoken his monologue, the audience stopped the music to recreate the scene themselves, they were so moved by it.” And that was exactly the point: “The beautiful plays of Shakespeare or Racine are written for the purpose of conveying strong emotions. There are eighteenth-century treatises that describe how the feeling sometimes changes within a line. The public understood that at the time. There are a number of impressive techniques that you need to learn to read. ”

While studying that technique, Wentz has benefited from silent films, which have preserved the last phase of the old acting tradition. “I’ve been looking at it intensively for ten years now, and I’m still discovering new things.”

Luther Museum Amsterdam. Declamatorium: Pied Piper of Hameln 15/5. Music building in Amsterdam. Mr. Tartüff with live music. 27/5.

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