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Music Text

Libretto and film script by Michel van der Aa, based on Texts by Ingrid Jonker in a translation by Antije Krog and André P. Brink (E)


S-Bar-choir-soundtrack(4channel); film(3D).
Bar and choir only on film

Abbreviations (PDF)



This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam
Michel van der Aa, director
Company: Miah Persson, Roderick Williams / Nederlands Kamerkoor


WOMAN Soprano
MAN Baritone (in film)

A woman, alone onstage, is lost. She sings fragmented texts, recording herself with a video camera. Her sentences gradually become complete and coherent. We learn of a devastating trauma that took place in 1976, when her son was seven years old. From the edge of the dike near their house she watched him swim, then drown. She was paralysed, unable to act.

The woman shares memories of her son while slowly building a small model house. She reconstructs and explains her relationship with her son, exploring her emotional displacement from him. As the line between reality and the world of the model begins to blur, a man appears on screen.

The man sings a duet with the woman's recording from earlier in the opera, filling out her story of that day in 1976. He also experienced a trauma: the woman on stage is his mother, who died that day she drowned saving his life.

In taking us back to the accident, the man adds a new perspective to the events. We realise the woman on stage is a reconstruction of his memory. They sing together, dance together. As the piece builds to a climax, the woman drowns in her own words while the man desperately clings to his treasured memories.

The woman disappears from stage. The man mourns her.

Blank Out's text and characters include elements by the South African poet lngrid Jonker. The story, however, is not biographical.

Michel van der Aa and Sophie Motley

Repertoire Note

A profoundly humane story and a technological innovation: Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out combines emotion and high tech. In this stage work, interactive 3D film and live electronics accompany the soloistic tour de force for a soprano. Her male counterpart answers on the 3D screen. Childhood memories, urban solitude, and traumatic life experiences stand in the focus of this work, which is based on the life and work of the South-African authoress Ingrid Jonker, who suffered a tragic death. Blank Out creates a sonic landscape in which music and noises are generated from the movements of the 3D camera – guided by the singer alone, without orchestra and conductor. The camera reacts to her emotional expedition, allowing fascinating worlds to arise out of a miniature model.

Press Quotes

"Van der Aa is nearing his masterpiece step-by-step […] the libretto based on work by the South African poetess Ingrid Jonker which, in fluctuating between hermeticism and plain language, proves to be an ideal foundation for Van der Aa’s own musical mix of sleep and wakefulness, floating lyricism and concrete angularity. Van der Aa’s music is frequently not only unusually beautiful, it also succeeds in presenting a highly individual blend of a cappella choral music, soundtrack, lyrical vocal lines and thumping techno as a natural amalgam. But eclectic? Van der Aa’s versatility is our real musical world." —NRC

" Van der Aa is going from strength to strength and is refining his theatrical palette on the firm foundation of his musical idiom. Opera Forward!" —Trouw

"Blank Out is so cleverly constructed that halfway through you forget you’re watching a 3-D opera. Film, music, acting: everything blends seamlessly together. Pure magic […] What you see and what you hear have enormous poetic and suggestive power […] the intriguing Van der Aa sound: a kaleidoscopic assortment of occasionally Gregorian-esque vocal music, pop music and sounds such as the knocking of stones and grinding gravel. Van der Aa has written a wonderful, colourful score sublimely performed." —Theaterkrant

“Its deft, fluid vocal writing conveyed a piercing story. ...Rarely have modern techniques and ancient musical virtues coexisted more naturally.” —New Yorker

“radically revelatory … Van der Aa is an inventive composer who is also dazzlingly in control of his multiple media. For a while it becomes almost impossible to distinguish flesh from light, reality from memory, now from then…The whole scene becomes an exhilarating hallucination.” —New York Magazine

“Mr. van der Aa’s music is spare but compelling, ranging from long, lyrical vocal lines to electronic sound effects and techno-pop.” —New York Times

“The searing music of the arias illuminates the poetry, while the haunting electronic background, which
sounds like a tape being played backward, provides yet another level.” —Wall Street Journal

“the shimmery, evocative splendor of van der Aa’s music ... embodies the bonds between the two characters.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“You rarely find a work as brilliantly conceived and executed as Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out” —San Francisco Classical Voice





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