Photo: Marco Borggreve
WP Amsterdam 2016
Aa, Michel van der
Blank Out (2015)
Duration: 70 minutes
Chamber opera for soprano and 3D film
Libretto and film script by Michel van der Aa, based on Texts by Ingrid Jonker in a translation by Antije Krog and André P. Brink (E)
S-Bar-choir-soundtrack(4channel); film(3D). Bar and choir only on film
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam
Michel van der Aa, director
Company: Miah Persson, Roderick Williams / Nederlands Kamerkoor
|MAN||Baritone (in film)|
A woman, alone onstage, is lost. She sings fragmented texts, recording herself with a video camera. Her sentences gradually become complete and coherent. We learn of a devastating trauma that took place in 1976, when her son was seven years old. From the edge of the dike near their house she watched him swim, then drown. She was paralysed, unable to act.
The woman shares memories of her son while slowly building a small model house. She reconstructs and explains her relationship with her son, exploring her emotional displacement from him. As the line between reality and the world of the model begins to blur, a man appears on screen.
The man sings a duet with the woman's recording from earlier in the opera, filling out her story of that day in 1976. He also experienced a trauma: the woman on stage is his mother, who died that day she drowned saving his life.
In taking us back to the accident, the man adds a new perspective to the events. We realise the woman on stage is a reconstruction of his memory. They sing together, dance together. As the piece builds to a climax, the woman drowns in her own words while the man desperately clings to his treasured memories.
The woman disappears from stage. The man mourns her.
Blank Out's text and characters include elements by the South African poet lngrid Jonker. The story, however, is not biographical.
Michel van der Aa and Sophie Motley
A profoundly humane story and a technological innovation: Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out combines emotion and high tech. In this stage work, interactive 3D film and live electronics accompany the soloistic tour de force for a soprano. Her male counterpart answers on the 3D screen. Childhood memories, urban solitude, and traumatic life experiences stand in the focus of this work, which is based on the life and work of the South-African authoress Ingrid Jonker, who suffered a tragic death. Blank Out creates a sonic landscape in which music and noises are generated from the movements of the 3D camera – guided by the singer alone, without orchestra and conductor. The camera reacts to her emotional expedition, allowing fascinating worlds to arise out of a miniature model.
"Van der Aa is nearing his masterpiece step-by-step […] the libretto based on work by the South African poetess Ingrid Jonker which, in fluctuating between hermeticism and plain language, proves to be an ideal foundation for Van der Aa’s own musical mix of sleep and wakefulness, floating lyricism and concrete angularity. Van der Aa’s music is frequently not only unusually beautiful, it also succeeds in presenting a highly individual blend of a cappella choral music, soundtrack, lyrical vocal lines and thumping techno as a natural amalgam. But eclectic? Van der Aa’s versatility is our real musical world." (Mischa Spel, NRC, 22 Mar 2016)
"Though enigmatic and at times mystifying, the whole piece becomes a wonderfully fluent and effective piece of music theatre." (Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 22 Mar 2016)
" Van der Aa is going from strength to strength and is refining his theatrical palette on the firm foundation of his musical idiom. Opera Forward! (Frederike Berntsen, Trouw, 22 Mar 2016)
"High-tech opera blends pleasure with primeval fear […] Perhaps, as so often, the composer-producer-librettist has drawn from the unfathomable source of a multi-interpretable dream of primal fears perceived consciously or otherwise. In any case the result is highly enjoyable, magical music and images without our fully understanding what exactly it’s all about […] In Blank Out Van der Aa has explored the boundaries of what is technically possible." (Erik Voermans, Het Parool, 28 Mar 2016)
"Blank Out is so cleverly constructed that halfway through you forget you’re watching a 3-D opera. Film, music, acting: everything blends seamlessly together. Pure magic: a soprano sings a duet with herself and with a baritone who is not even actually on stage. The former recalls the drowning of her seven-year-old son, whilst the latter remembers how his mother drowned in an attempt to save his life. During the performance the two realities continually enter into a dialogue with each other and give the opera depth. […] What you see and what you hear have enormous poetic and suggestive power […] the intriguing Van der Aa sound: a kaleidoscopic assortment of occasionally Gregorian-esque vocal music, pop music and sounds such as the knocking of stones and grinding gravel. Van der Aa has written a wonderful, colourful score sublimely performed." (Oswin Schneeweisz, Theaterkrant, 21 Mar 2016)