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Dallas Opera To Present U.S. Debut Of A Multi-Media ‘Mystery Opera’ 12

In spring 2018, the Dallas Opera will present the American premiere of ‘Sunken Garden,’ by the pioneering Dutch composer Michel van der Aa and the celebrated British novelist David Mitchell, best known for such wildly inventive works as ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Black Swan Green’ and ‘Number9Dream.’ The opera was originally a 2013 co-production of English National Opera, Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Opéra de Lyon, the Holland Festival and London’s Barbican Centre — and was hailed for its stunning visuals (which include cinematic 3D imagery) and van der Aa’s mix of electronic and acoustical music.

The noir-ish libretto is typical of Mitchell’s convoluted, fantasy works, novels that recall fairy tales even as they push the envelope of storytelling. An aspiring filmmaker is creating a documentary about the disappearance or possible abduction of a tech engineer and a young socialite. In his research he comes across a magical garden run by a sorceress, where souls are more or less ‘stored’ between life and death.

Dallas Opera CEO Keith Cerny saw a ‘re-launched’ version of ‘Sunken Garden’ at Opera de Lyon in 2015 and decided to bring it to the U.S.

The full release:



Four Performances

March 9 -17, 2018
The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House At The AT&T Performing Arts Center

DALLAS, NOVEMBER 17, 2016 – The Dallas Opera is privileged to announce that TDO will present the United States Premiere of composer Michel van der Aa’s critically acclaimed contemporary masterpiece, SUNKEN GARDEN, “a fantastical tale to set the ears and eyes popping” (New York Times headline) during the Texas company’s 2017-2018 Season.

The work, described by its creator as an “occult mystery film opera,” fuses film and live performance (including 3-D and other visual effects) to deliver what Steve Smith of The New York Times called “a bold, rewarding venture” during its 2013 English National Opera world premiere at the Barbican. The production coming to Dallas was reworked for a successful 2015 relaunch at Opéra de Lyon.

Dallas Opera performances—sung entirely in English with supertitles projected above the stage—are scheduled for March 9, 11(m), 14 & 17, 2018 in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. This astonishing work will be directed (both on film and on stage) by Mr. van der Aa himself.

The announcement was made by Keith Cerny, the Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO of The Dallas Opera, at the conclusion of this evening’s “Composing Conversation with Michel van der Aa” at Studio Music Grill (Royal Lane, Dallas).

“I first experienced SUNKEN GARDEN in Lyon, France, in the spring of 2015” explained Mr. Cerny, “and found it a uniquely rewarding theatrical experience.”

“Michel is an outstanding composer, yet his skill as a videographer and his pioneering use of both two-and-three-dimensional projections, paired with live singers, stretch the boundaries that typically define “What is Opera?”

“Much like Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s Everest, the stunning visuals throughout this work and the brilliantly surreal libretto by Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer David Mitchell prompts a necessary rethinking of the art form itself.

“I found myself captivated by Michel van der Aa’s extraordinary musical and visual vocabulary—and many in the audience clearly shared my sense of awe,” Cerny adds. “I was certain we were witnessing a work of rare originality and multi-disciplinary innovation.

“Frankly, I couldn’t wait to bring it to the U.S.” ~~~~

SUNKEN GARDEN was originally a co-production of ENO, Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Opéra de Lyon, the Holland Festival and London’s Barbican Centre. This opera also marked the first collaboration between the Dutch composer and British novelist David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas).

Heidi Waleson, reviewing for The Wall Street Journal described the experience: “The inventive and haunting music is acoustic and electronic, live and prerecorded, classical and pop…Film and music align seamlessly; neither would make sense without the other…When the live singers enter the 3-D garden, the music grows richer and more expansive…The images here are spectacular: the opulent trees and flowers; the quivering holograms of the two captives, Amber and Simon; and the vertical pool through which Zenna enters and departs, which explodes out toward the audience as a shower of droplets or a giant, whirling funnel.

“The fine singers—live and on film—adeptly captured the ferocity and pathos in Sunken Garden. And the lively actors…were completely believable…technical wizardry enhanced the humanity of the piece rather than overwhelming it,” Ms. Waleson added.

SUNKEN GARDEN will star English baritone Roderick Williams as “Tony Kramer,” British soprano Katherine Manley as “Zenna Briggs,” and renowned Swedish soprano Miah Persson as “Iris Marinus.” All will be making their Dallas Opera debuts in this production.

Set and lighting design is by Theun Mosk with costumes by Astrid Schulz.

Antony Craig of Gramophone (UK) emphasized that SUNKEN GARDEN is a compelling theatrical work: “This is real drama and it works dramatically. The mystery is as complex as TV film noir. The spoken interviews work as film and the 3D successfully drew me right into the sunken garden. Crucially, Sunken Garden works as opera, with Van der Aa’s fusion of musical styles matching the fusion of mediums.”

And Andrew Clement of The Guardian added, “Van der Aa has directed the show as well as the often sumptuous-looking film sequences. As always he’s done it with immense technical skill, and both his orchestral writing and the electronic soundtrack are strikingly effective.”

Reviewing for Opernwelt, Albrecht Thiemann had high praise for Michel van der Aa’s extraordinary versatility: “Composer, sound engineer, film maker and director all rolled into one, Van der Aa has always endeavored to make video clips, webcams and laptop animations something more than mere stage setting. Rather than creating immaterial decoration or replacing physical backdrops and buildings with fancy digital tableaus, he is interested in exploring new dimensions of aesthetic experience. […] Nowhere else [in Van der Aa’s work] are the layerings and reflections of a multimedia Gesamtkunstwerk constructed in such complex ways…and nowhere else has an aesthetic integration of heterogeneous elements been achieved more convincingly in terms of technique. And yet, Van der Aa poses nothing but the age-old questions: Who are we? What do we see, hear, feel? Where do we come from?

“It seems there is somebody out there who sees the signs of our times for what they are, informed by artistic exploration. One who observes what he sees and hears without blinders. One who devours everything, only to feed it back into his ongoing research into the musical theatre stage.”

Composer Michel van der Aa:

“One of the most distinctive of the younger composers in Europe today. His ability to fuse music, text and visual images into a totally organic whole sets him apart from nearly all his contemporaries.” (Andrew Clements, The Guardian)

Michel van der Aa (Netherlands, 1970) is a truly multidisciplinary figure in contemporary music. A unique voice, he combines composition with film and stage direction, and script writing. Classical instruments, voices, electronic sound, actors, theatre and video are all seamless extensions of his musical vocabulary.

Before studying composition (with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen), Van der Aa trained first as a recording engineer at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In 2002 he broadened his skills with studies in film direction, at the New York Film Academy, and in 2007 he participated in the Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab, an intensive course in stage direction.

Van der Aa’s musical materials are hard to tease apart, constantly switching between stasis and high energy, concrete and abstract, acoustic and electronic, ‘pure’ and processed, brand new and half‐ remembered. Many of them are as visual as they are aural. The possibilities of digital and audio‐ visual technology often feature, not as a surface gloss to his work but at the core of his artistic outlook.

Another important aspect to Van der Aa’s is collaboration and interdisciplinarity. He has worked with leading classical performers such as Sol Gabetta, Barbara Hannigan, Janine Jansen, Christianne Stotijn and Roderick Williams, as well as the Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura, pop acts Kate Miller‐ Heidke and These New Puritans, and well‐known European actors like Klaus Maria Brandauer and João Reis.

His most recent partnership is with the English novelist David Mitchell, with whom he is writing his fourth work for music theatre, Sunken Garden, an ‘occult‐mystery film‐opera’ co‐commissioned by English National Opera, the Toronto Luminato Festival, Opera de Lyon, the Holland Festival and the Barbican Centre, London.

His music has been performed by ensembles and orchestras worldwide, including
musikFabrik, ICE, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Chamber Players, SWR orchestra Baden‐Baden & Freiburg, the ASKO|Schoenberg ensemble, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Phiharmonia Orchestra London and the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra.

He has been a featured artist at the Perth Tura New Music Festival and Holland Festival. He is a regular guest of the Berliner Festspiele, Venice Biennale, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Gaudeamus Music Week, Opera de Lyon, Huddersfield Festival and Warsaw Autumn. Additionally his compositions have been performed at the Festival d’Automne à Paris, LA Philharmonic New Music Series, Lucerne Festival, Tokyo Suntory Summer Music Festival, Schleswig‐Holstein Festival, Moscow Music Week and Oslo Ultima Festival.

Van der Aa has won acclaim for his multimedia works for the stage and concert hall (not only the operas One, After Life and The Book of Disquiet, but also Up‐Close, and Transit for piano and video). He has directed both the filmed and staged elements of all of these works. His operas have been staged in more than a dozen countries, with After Life and The Book of Disquiet being regularly revived.

In 1999 Michel van der Aa was the first Dutch composer to win the prestigious International Gaudeamus Prize. Subsequent awards include the Matthijs Vermeulen prize (2004), a Siemens Composers Grant (2005), the Charlotte Köhler Prize for his directing work and the interdisciplinary character of his oeuvre (2005), the Paul Hindemith Prize (2006), and the Kagel Prize (2013).

Michel van der Aa has won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for his multimedia work Up‐Close.

In 2007 the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra commissioned the song cycle Spaces of Blank, and since 2011 he has been a ‘house composer’ with the orchestra. This association that will lead to several major new works, including a violin concerto for Janine Jansen. Over the last few years he has also developed strong ties with the Barbican Centre, with performances of After Life and Up‐Close, which led to the premiere of Sunken Garden in April 2013.

In 2010 he launched Disquiet Media, an independent multimedia label for his own work, and in 2012 developed Disquiet TV, an online virtual auditorium for contemporary music events.