Michel van der Aa’s new chamber opera, Blank Out will be premiered in March at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam. Commissioned by Dutch National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival, it is based upon the life and work of Ingrid Jonker. Sometimes described as the “South African Sylvia Plath,” Jonker was a brilliant poet who wrote against the apartheid regime, but whose traumatic and troubled life led to her suicide at 31 in the sea off Cape Town.
Building on the technological innovation of Sunken Garden , Blank Out uses the intersection of live action and 3D video to explore the nature of memory and the effects of trauma. The Swedish soprano Miah Persson appears on stage as a lone woman dealing with a disturbing event in her past. She is accompanied on film by the baritone Roderick Williams, and on the work’s electronic soundtrack by the Nederlands Kamerkoor.
Blank Out will receive its first performances on 20, 21 and 25 March 2016 as part of the Opera Forward Festival, and tickets are available via either the Muziekgebouw aant ’t IJ or the National Opera itself.
A co-commission with the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and the Lucerne Festival it will be performed in Rome this May, and in Lucerne in June 2017.
Read more about Blank Out
This year’s Lyon Biennale Musiques en Scéne, which begins on 1 March, will have Michel van der Aa as its featured composer. In line with its theme this year of “the entertained man,” or life in a post-digital world, Van der Aa will be represented by works that touch on matters of social media and virtual reality, including the Violin Concerto, Spaces of Blank, Second Self, and the premiere of the installation version of his interactive song cycle The Book of Sand.
Founded in 1992, and a biennial event since 2002, Musique en Scène is a month-long multidisciplinary festival of music and multimedia art. Previous guest artists and curators have included Kaija Saariaho and Heiner Goebbels. The 2016 Biennale runs from 1 to 27 March, and tickets are available from the BMES website.
The Book of Disquiet has recently received its first US and UK performances, in a new English-language production starring Samuel West. One of Van der Aa’s most critically acclaimed works, The Book of Disquiet sets the posthumous “‘factless autobiography” of Bernardo Soares, alter ego of the Portuguese novelist Fernando Pessoa.
After the work’s US premiere at Montclair State University, New Jersey, in January, James R. Oestreich of the New York Times wrote:
“The films, directed by Mr. van der Aa, create a sort of dream world, and they are where the multiplicity of characters come in, as well as the wonderful fado singer, Ana Moura. […] The music, too, relates mostly to the beautiful films, underlining scenes of agitation, for example, with liberal dissonance and in general fomenting a mood of, yes, disquiet.
Memorable it will be, for its very strangeness, as well as for Mr. van der Aa’s imaginative production and for Mr. West’s riveting performance.”
The first UK performances took place on 24 and 25 January at the Coronet Theatre, London, performed by the London Sinfonietta, and were well received by the British press.
“[Pessoa’s] manic intensity beneath a seemingly static surface is wonderfully captured in Van der Aa’s score, which has bouts of violent, jagged-rhythmed writing following by luscious, saccharine passages of calm. Sadly, only two performances. The Book of Disquiet deserves to be booked for a disquieting reprise.” (*****)
— The Times, Richard Morrison
“Sinfonietta shines in beautifully crafted Van der Aa theatre piece […] Both aspects are projected through Van der Aa’s wonderfully accomplished dramatic reworking” (****)
— The Guardian, Andrew Clements
“The Coronet […] generously embraced Michel van der Aa’s multidisciplinary extravaganza […] The Dutch composer has consistently and ingeniously combined music, film-making and words – all under his direction – into single works of zest and beauty. [Actor Samuel] West, delivering a meditation from the Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, is breathtakingly competent.[…] It is hard, and perhaps wrong to try, to separate Van der Aa’s music from the whole experience: you come away with an aural image of long brass lines riding across lurching, urgent unison string figures. It’s only an impression. There’s so much more. At the end all is suddenly darkness. Stepping from this mesmerising interior fantasy into the roar of Elephant’s urban verismo is quite a wake-up call.” (****)
— The Observer, Fiona Maddocks
One of Michel van der Aa’s most critically acclaimed works is to receive its first US and UK performances at the start of 2016. The Book of Disquiet is Van der Aa’s third music theatre work, and will be produced in a new English-language version. Both US and UK performances will feature the renowned English actor and director Samuel West (Howard’s End, ENRON) in the solo stage role of Bernardo Soares, alter ego of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, whose posthumous novel ‘The Book of Disquiet’ serves as a haunting, dreamlike, ‘factless autobiography’. The US performances, at Montclair State University, New Jersey, will be the first staging of any of Van der Aa’s large-scale operas in the United States.
The Book of Disquiet will be performed at the Alexander Kasser Theatre, Montclair State University, from 21 to 24 January, conducted by Alan Pierson. It will then be staged at the Coronet Theatre, London, in two performances by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Joana Carneiro, on 24 and 25 February.
For more information about the Montclair performances, click here.
For more about the London performances, click here.