A Bit of ‘Twin Peaks’ in 3D Opera Blank Out

05/10/2017

Mia Persson and Roderick Williams in Michel van der Aa's 'Blank Out' (Photo: Stephanie Berger)

Mia Persson and Roderick Williams in Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out (c) Stephanie Berger

 Michel van der Aa, Blank Out: Miah Persson (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Netherlands Chamber Choir, Park Avenue Armory, New York City, 21.9.2017. (KG)

Michel van der Aa’s complex and riveting Blank Out received its North American premiere on 21 September (kicking off a five-day run) in the wonderfully dark and cavernous Park Avenue Armory. With prerecorded audio, three-dimensional projection, and a stage set that repeatedly changed in scale without hiding its mechanisms, it was a gorgeous spectacle.

The opera is, at least on its face, a sort of ghost story about a woman (Miah Persson) haunted by the loss of her young son. She’s forced to recall the day he died, while living in fear of forgetting his life. As if to keep those memories alive, she constructs miniature scenes on stage, while adjusting a camera to allow the audience to peer into those memories, via a large screen behind her.

Her recollections aren’t the only things projected onto the screen. In short order, a man (Roderick Williams) appears and begins retelling the story of the drowning, using some of the woman’s same words and phrases. The suggestion is strongly made that this is the woman’s son, although he is now an adult. In his telling, it is the mother who died trying to save him. Is this the mother’s Hell, forever reliving his death? Or are there parallel universes (one on stage and one onscreen) bumping up against one another? In this year of alternate realities (both political and Twin Peaks-ian) it’s hard to hazard a guess. The opera was based in part on the life of South African poet Ingrid Jonkers, who committed suicide in 1965 by walking into the Atlantic Ocean, but that fact does little to straighten the narrative twists.

The obscured clarity was likely intentional. After being commissioned by the Dutch National Opera and a March 2016 premiere, any kinks in the staging or narrative may have been ironed out over the ensuing 18 months. The result is an attempt at making a story—helped by a stage set—that doubled back on itself. As with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot, the emotions were raw and real, even when the events of the story didn’t seem to be.

Van der Aa is famously dedicated to employing technology for innovative stagings. He has used interactive video previously (notably in his 2013 opera Sunken Garden), and Blank Out was a fantastically inventive production—except, oddly enough, for its biggest tech component. The 3D projection that required attendees to wear glasses (text onscreen admonished the audience to keep them on the entire time, as if for an eclipse) didn’t particularly help or hinder the set or story. The few overt 3D effects (stones flying at the audience) seemed as forced as in any cheap horror movie. Though 3D defined the production, the result seemed unnecessary. By itself, however, the film was used to wonderful effect, allowing for flashbacks, exposition, and blurring between onstage and onscreen activity.

The music—and an opera should be about the music—was gorgeous, at least the vocal writing. The opening scene was the strongest, multi-tracked and sung a cappella, looped in real time by Persson. On the other hand, over the 70 minutes, the heavily sequenced electronic tracks were less than compelling. Near the end, Williams’ brief but beautiful solo suffered from the distraction of the growing aura of electronic tones.

In the penultimate scene, the live Persson and the onscreen Williams sang in turns, “I repeat you without beginning or end, repeat your body,” intoning Jonkers’ verses translated into English. Mother and son of roughly the same age danced to a flat techno score as they sang, as if having fun at home, or perhaps pantomiming having fun at home. Whether story or dream, whether either were alive, or whether any joy were to be had—van der Aa left the audience to speculate.

Kurt Gottschalk

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • NEW! The Three Choirs Festival 2018: A Preview __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Season at the Royal Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival – 30 June to 15 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Staatsoper Unter de Linden in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Bring Swan Lake to London in August __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces its 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Booking Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Additional Tickets Now Available for Nevill Holt Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Four-Day Celebration of Art Song in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere by Novaya Opera of Pushkin – The Opera in the Theatre in the Woods __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella in Cinemas on 15 May with Live Q&A __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H