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