The Dutch composer received the International Opera Award for his opera Upload. The prize in the category ‘Digital Opera’ was ceremoniously awarded to Michel van der Aa at the Teatro Real in Madrid on 28 November.
"A masterful interweaving of music, film and motion-capture technology," was the New York Times' verdict on Michel van der Aa's film opera Upload. Based on a libretto written by the composer himself and commissioned by Dutch National Opera, Cologne Opera, Bregenz Festival and Ensemble Musikfabrik, among others, the work was premiered in front of an audience in the summer of 2021 in Bregenz, while Dutch National Opera produced a film version of Upload in the spring of the same year due to the pandemic.
In Upload, Van der Aa illuminates a father-daughter relationship in the digital age in a precisely timed combination of technical-visual possibilities with music and acting, posing existential questions such as what makes a human being human - a body or touch? - and what would happen if the human spirit lived forever. In the opera, it is possible to preserve the human spirit in digital space by means of an upload procedure, even if the physical body dies. The father in the drama, who suffers from an unnamed fatal disease, undergoes such an upload in order to prolong the time he spends together with his daughter. In the process, the opera takes place on two time levels: in flashbacks, a film projected onto the stage documents the origins and practices of the upload; in the present, live projections depict the father's digital avatar interacting with the daughter in real time as she comes to terms with her loss and has to make difficult decisions about her father's future existence.
Michel van der Aa on Upload:
"What if our minds could live forever? Recent advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience mean that we will soon be able to capture our memories and experiences and use this data to create a digital consciousness identical to our own. These 'whole-brain emulations' will be able to live on indefinitely after we die: a kind of virtual resurrection. But where are our identities really located? In our minds, our bodies or our relationships? And to what extent does the data of our lives determine our fate?
"Upload tells the story of a daughter and her father who, faced with his inevitable death, 'uploads' his thoughts and memories in order to achieve eternal digital consciousness. This very emotional work raises age-old philosophical questions - about fate, identity, the price of immortality and the ethics of technological progress - that take on new meaning against the backdrop of present and future technologies."
> Trailer of the Dutch National Opera on Upload (YouTube)
> Read reviews of Upload
> Roderick Williams discusses working on Upload
> Further information on Work: Upload
Photo: Stage image of the production in Bregenz © Bregenzer Festspiele/Anja Köhler
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