The focal point of Robert Zuidam’s compositional output is targeted at vocal music and particularly that of music theatre. The McGonagall-Lieder (1997-2001) for colorature-soprano and ensemble, Pancho Villa (1988-’90) voor mezzo-soprano and piano, Nella Città Dolente (1998) for vocal octet and particularly Calligramme/il pleut (1991, rev. 2009), for two female voices a cappella, belong to Zuidam’s most frequently performed works. In 2012 his Canciones del Alma was premiered in Amsterdam Concertgebouw, again starring Katrien Baerts. He is currently working on a Requiem, for the Netherlands Chamber Choir and Asko|Schönberg.
It was Hans Werner Henze, who made Zuidam aware of his potential as an opera-composer and -librettist, and commissioned him to create a full-length opera for the Biennale für Neues Musiktheater in Munich, Germany. This resulted in Freeze, an opera based on the story of the Patricia Hearst-kidnap, which was realized in 1994 in a co-production with the Holland Festival and the Staatstheater Braunschweig. Soprano Susan Narucki performed the leading role of the piece, that prompted Klaus Umbach, music-critic of Der Spiegel to label Zuidam as “ein genialischer Hund”.
A second opera, Rage d’amours, was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and was premiered in August 2003 at Tanglewood, with the much acclaimed soprano Lucy Shelton as leading lady. Also on this occasion, the press responded with enthusiasm. The New York Times wrote: “a formidable work... a score that keeps you hooked... with Rage d’amours Mr. Zuidam announces himself as a composer to reckon with”. Rage d’amours, which portrays the turbulent relationship of Johanna the Insane and Philip the Handsome, received its European premiere in June 2005 during the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, in a double-bill with Zuidam’s McGonagall-Lieder, with Claron McFadden, Barbara Hannigan and Young-Hee-Kim performing the leading roles, in a staging by Guy Cassiers, and was revived by Festival in de Branding, The Hague 2010. In 2006 the chamber-opera Der Hund was created, in a production of Muziektheater De Helling, directed by door Aat Ceelen, about the final hour of the Austrian suicidal misanthrope Otto Weininger.
In 2009, Zuidam composed Adam in Ballingschap for De Nederlandse Opera and the Holland Festival, after Joost van den Vondel’s play from 1664, again staged by Guy Cassiers, with Claron McFadden and Thomas Oliemans performing the leading roles. Zuidam’s opera Suster Bertken, about the life and poetry of a 15th-century anchoress from Utrecht, received its first, semi-staged performances in December 2010 with soprano Katrien Baerts in the title role and Asko|Schönberg. A new scenic production directed by Pierre Audi is staged at Holland Festival 2013 in a double bill with his latest work Troparion for Helena Rasker and a small ensemble with acclaimed violinist Liza Ferschtman in the lead.
In addition to this, Robert Zuidam composed a large number of works for orchestra, ensembles and soloists. Besides his work as a composer, Zuidam is also active as an essayist on music, a.o. for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. In 2010, Zuidam taught and lectured at Harvard University as Erasmus Professor, and was awarded the Kees van Baaren-Prize in The Hague, for his opera Rage d’amours. Zuidam’s music is published by Deuss Music, The Hague.