Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Michael Van der Aa Barbican

New ENO production at the Barbican of Michael Van der Aa's Sunken Garden on Friday. Sunken Garden tells a "multi-layered story of a missing person and those who are searching for him. What connects the disappearance of a software engineer, a neurotic film-maker and a gullible patroness of the arts? This new film-opera explores hoax and dark truth, with a libretto from Cloud Atlas novelist David Mitchell."  If opera is a fusing of music, acting, text and visuals, then why not add film to the mix ? Film opens up dimensions that can't otherwise be easily expressed.

In Van der Aa's Up Close (at the Barbican in 2011) a cellist played live, interacting with a film of an actress. At first actress and cellist look alike, but when the actress turns round, close ups show  her face is haggard and etched. It feels like she's carrying the "madness" of ages.  Van de Aa's music murmurs and wails, like the forest the actress is seen wandering through. A modern day Ewartung? The actress acts out mechanical, compulsive routines, like copying out what looks like a periodic table in chemistry, and operates a strange machine whose purpose is unclear. A symbol not so much of mad science but the kind of emotional alchemy which some people need to do to give order to their lives. 

Much more ambitious and conceptual was Van der Aa's After Life in 2010. Several people meet in a waiting room. They’ve just died, but they must examine their lives, and pick one memory to take with them before they can journey on. One memory to summarize a whole lifetime? It’s not easy. Effectively, they’re pondering what their lives might have meant. It’s a powerful psychological concept, strikingly adapted as theatre. van der Aa mixes live orchestra with electronica, live performers with ordinary people captured on film. That’s not specially innovative in itself, but van der Aa takes the concept further, blending art and reality.

Singers and musicians perform a score, while ordinary people speak spontaneously. Van der Aa abandoned the idea of script altogether: people simply turned up at his studio, and talked spontaneously. Ordinary people, but extraordinary lives. Perhaps that’s part of After Life’s message too. More emotionally articulate people have more insight into what makes them what they are, but even the most mundane life has meaning. READ MORE HERE.

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