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Michel van der Aa: UK premiere of The Book of Disquiet

(January 2016)

The Book of Disquiet, Michel van der Aa's music theatre work exploring the multiple personas of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, receives its UK premiere in February with Samuel West and the London Sinfonietta.


Michel van der Aa's The Book of Disquiet receives its first UK performances on 24 and 25 February with the London Sinfonietta at the Coronet Theatre in Southwark (nearest tube Elephant & Castle). The new English version of the music theatre work features actor Samuel West on stage, and the multiple personas of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa presented by actors and the acclaimed fado singer Ana Moura on film. The score is performed by the live musicians of the London Sinfonietta conducted by Joana Carneiro with electronics and video elements integrated into the production by van der Aa. The staging is supported by The London Community Foundation and Cockayne - Grants for the Arts.

> Book tickets for The Book of Disquiet

The new English version of The Book of Disquiet starring Samuel West was first staged last month by Peak Performances at Montclair University in New Jersey, USA. It follows productions of the German version in Linz, Amsterdam, Wroclaw and Saarbrücken starring Klaus Maria Brandauer, and the Portuguese version in Porto starring João Reis. Earlier collaborations between Michel van der Aa and the London Sinfonietta have included the world premiere of the clarinet concerto Hysteresis and the UK premiere of the complete Here Trilogy in 2014. Stagings of van der Aa's operas in London have included After Life at the Barbican in 2010 and Sunken Garden by English National Opera in 2013.

Composed in 2008, The Book of Disquiet features a libretto drawing upon texts by the iconic Portuguese poet and writer Fernando Pessoa, adapted by the composer and built from a collection of fragmentary material, diary entries and anecdotes by Pessoa found in a box trunk after the poet's death in 1935 aged 42. The Book of Disquiet was signed under Pessoa's alter-ego Bernardo Soares and introduced as a 'factless autobiography'. The first Portuguese edition in 1982 soon attracted international translations and publications and was rapidly established as a modernist classic.

Van der Aa narrowed down the texts through a process of selection in order to create a piece that could exist in ‘real’ time in the theatre. A series of recurring themes group the fragments by subject matter – for instance, isolation, love, or dreams. There are realistic scenes with the alter-egos of Bernardo Soares, but also scenes that are much more abstract, drawing upon entries found in the book to create a more dreamlike mise-en-scène. The video switches between imagery that literally extends the physical events on stage, and more surreal scenes that delve deeper into the mind of the protagonist.

Commenting on Pessoa’s technique of writing through a series of alter-egos, Van der Aa says, "Pessoa often casts himself in a series of distinct characters, ‘heteronyms’ as he calls them, both male and female. I was intrigued by the idea that the sum of these doubles could provide a total representation of the poet. This gave me the scope for the video element of the piece: the actor on stage represents the central character of The Book of Disquiet, the Lisbon bookkeeper Bernardo Soares, but he is also seen on the video as himself and as a series of alter-egos acted by three men and one woman. The drama is his coming to terms with his identity."

Michel van der Aa's highlights in coming months include the world premiere of his new opera Blank Out, featuring soprano Miah Persson on stage and baritone Roderick Williams on film. First performances in March in Amsterdam are presented by Dutch National Opera at the Muziekgebouw as part of the Opera Forward series, with staging by the composer and a soundtrack featuring the Netherlands Chamber Choir. March also brings a van der Aa feature in Lyon including the French premieres of the Violin Concerto with Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Spaces of Blank for voice and orchestra.


> Further information on Work: The Book of Disquiet

Photo: Samuel West and Ana Moura in The Book of Disquiet (Peak Performances 2016, photo by Marina Levitskaya)

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