Michel van der Aa: Upload successfully staged in Bregenz
Upload, the new film opera by Michel van der Aa, drew bravos at its world premiere at the Bregenz Festival in Austria on 29 July. The acclaimed production, featuring singers Julia Bullock and Roderick Williams, travels on to Dutch National Opera in October, and Park Avenue Armory New York and Cologne Opera in future seasons.
The long-awaited stage premiere of Michel van der Aa’s new film opera, Upload, was successfully staged at the Bregenz Festival in July, following a series of COVID-related delays and postponements. Singers Julia Bullock and Roderick Williams were joined by Ensemble Musikfabrik conducted by Otto Tausk. The production by the composer was praised for its “vivid images and multiple layers, with gripping music” (Neue Voralberger Tagezeitung), and the multi-media opera’s ground-breaking significance for the repertoire was acknowledged: “we want this work to survive, with a life on many stages” (Südkurier).
Combining live music and theatre with state-of-the-art video and sound technology, Upload tells its story through live action, motion capture technology and immersive 3D film. Scored for two singers, actors on film, ensemble and electronics, Upload describes a father who suffers from severe trauma and hopes to find happiness in a digital version of himself. He selects memories that have shaped his life, leaves behind his physical body, and returns home to his daughter as an “upload”. She tries to understand why he resolved to undertake the experiment. Is he still the same person? And what rights does this digital human copy have?
“Michel van der Aa's provocative new opera Upload explores age-old philosophical questions: what are the limits of human memory, and what happens when we are unable to forget? Where do our identities really reside-in our minds, our bodies, our relationships? And how far do the raw data of our lives determine our fate?”
“Using different media, the Dutch director and composer creates a perfectly coordinated total work that arouses emotions and opens the mind. With all the technology that is used here, the focus is on the story of father and daughter…
“In the dialogues and monologues, the audience feels the relationship between the two and the character of the father - his doubts, his depression, even though he was a humorous person. The daughter's longing for her father is heart-breaking. In a touching scene, soprano Julia Bullock opens the space to the whole universe: in a landscape that is nowhere, her father is now there. The visuals and the singing open eyes, ears and heart. Very beautiful! …
“Ensemble Musikfabrik, directed by Otto Tausk, creates worlds both furiously dramatic and warmly tender. The live music is a duet with electronic sounds so perfectly prepared that the boundaries are blurred.”
Neue Vorarlberger Tageszeitung
“The strength of Upload is the perfect interplay of its various disciplines. The interaction of the images on the screen and the singers on the stage, the interplay between analogue and digital music, the transition from singing to the delicate sounds of the ensemble are so successful that the individual elements are no longer recognizable as such...
“A musical arc of tension runs from the first to the last minute, which is due not only to the masterful presentation, but also to the composition. The musicians provided an evening of operatic suspense for the audience, who expressed their enthusiasm with long applause and shouts of bravo."
Austrian Press Agency
“Musically, van der Aa works characteristically with an interlacing of analogue and digital sounds, employing electronic alienation and playback. Driven, sometimes minimalist-repetitive passages that accompany the argument between father and daughter shift with calmer sounds towards almost meditative pictorial landscapes.
“The plot also gets an operatic twist: the father realises that the trauma with which he suffered continues to torment him after the upload. Desperate, he asks his daughter to delete him - a mighty decision she does not want to take. For the grief and pain of the father and the dilemma of the daughter Van der Aa finds poignant moments that are wonderfully delivered by the two vocal soloists.”
“The Dutch composer Michel van der Aa wants to know whether man could be successful in trying to attain eternal life. His opera Upload, premiered at the Bregenz Festival, gives a sad answer that is powerful both in sound and images...
“Michel van der Aa's pliable music conveys the intimacy of the father-daughter relationship to the audience. His music finds sounds for the seductive promises of science as well as for the emotional states of people: between life weariness, hope, fear, tenderness and a vague, distant vision of salvation."
Five staged performances of Upload are presented by Dutch National Opera this autumn, opening in Amsterdam on 1 October. A film version of Upload, created by Michel van der Aa during the COVID pandemic, was premiered on 16 July on demand by subscribers from the Medici.tv channel (except in the USA).
Upload was written, composed, and directed by Michel van der Aa, and created in close collaboration with set and lighting designer Theun Mosk, dramaturgs Madelon Kooijman and Niels Nuijten, costume designer Elske van Buuren, director of photography Joost Rietdijk, motion and real-time graphic artist Darien Brio, VFX and fractal artist Julius Horsthuis, and a top-notch technical team.
> Further information on Work: Upload
Photo: Bregenz Festival/Anja Koehler