3D Chamber Opera by Michel van der Aa Makes North American Premiere at Park Avenue Armory
Reimagined for the Armory’s Drill Hall, Blank Out Unites Live Performance and Film in Haunting Work Starring Miah Persson, Roderick Williams, and the Netherlands Chamber Choir
Composer and director Michel van der Aa’s perspective-bending chamber opera Blank Out, based on the life and work of South African poet Ingrid Jonker, is reimagined within Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall in its North American premiere this September. Miah Persson performs live and is accompanied by a 3D film featuring Roderick Williams and the Netherlands Chamber Choir. The design of the space will capitalize on the malleability of the Drill Hall and the unique backdrop of its architecture with elements that heighten the panoramic landscapes found in the film, utilize the room’s iconic vaulted ceiling, and create a stage that is interchangeably vast and intimate throughout the production. The resulting effect blurs the lines between virtual and live performance and heightens the dissonance between perception and reality within the opera itself. Weaving together Jonker’s poetry and elements of her life story, van der Aa’s work explores the reconstruction of memory, fragility of human nature, response to trauma, and the notion of individual realities. Blank Out premiered at the Dutch National Opera as part of the Opera Forward Festival in March 2016.
“Michel van der Aa is a groundbreaking artist and composer who brings a new kind of vocabulary to opera—one that embraces technology and transcends what can sometimes be rigid barriers between styles of music,” said Pierre Audi, Artistic Director of Park Avenue Armory. “Blank Out is a beautiful example of his work and, through its exploration of grief and motherhood, is both deeply personal and internationally relevant.”
“We are thrilled to host the North American premiere of Blank Out, a production that so poignantly represents the type of genre-bending work to which the Wade Thompson Drill Hall lends itself,” said Rebecca Robertson, Executive Producer and President of Park Avenue Armory. “We are always excited to see how artists reimagine their works within such a dynamic canvas, and Michel’s work, with its simultaneous grandness and intimacy—told through performance by Persson, Williams, and Michel’s vivid and visually stunning film—is sure to provide an evocative and unforgettable experience.”
Set along the rolling banks of the desolate Dutch countryside, Blank Out follows the story of unnamed archetypes “woman” and “man,” a mother and son attempting to reconstruct memories of their lives together. The woman (played by Perrson) physically rebuilds a model of their home while, behind and around her, the man (played by Williams) inhabits that very same space in 3D film in an isolated house on the banks of a river. Both are working through the same traumatic event, piecing fragments of their lives together and confronting the devastation of loss. The two worlds—on stage and in film—begin to intertwine, making it increasingly difficult for the audience to discern perspective and dimension, until they ultimately collide.
Van der Aa’s composition for Blank Out is a colorful mix of vocal and choral music, synthesized electronic music, pop, and abstract sound, accentuating the mystery conjured by Blank Out’s plot. The Netherlands Chamber Choir, though never seen, provides haunting counterpoint to Persson and Williams through a cappella performance within the film. The work marks Michel van der Aa’s second foray into 3D film.
While not strictly autobiographical, Blank Out is based on the life and work of Ingrid Jonker, who tragically ended her own life when she walked into the sea and committed suicide by drowning in 1965. Jonker is a literary icon throughout South Africa and internationally, renowned for her characteristic free verse, sensual yet surrealistic imagery, and her work to challenge the conservative literary norms of the time.