BMF brings Michel van der Aa’s multimedia 3D opera ‘Blank Out’ to Beijing

By Zhang Yuchen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/19 18:48:39

Promotional material for <em>Blank Out</em>  Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

Promotional material for Blank Out Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

Promotional material for <em>Blank Out</em>  Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

Promotional material for Blank Out Photo: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

Michel van der Aa Photos: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

Michel van der Aa Photos: Courtesy of the Beijing Music Festival

After the giant bed in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the immersive staging of a classic work by Mozart, what other innovations can this year's Beijing Music Festival (BMF) offer opera lovers? The answer is 3D.

Unlike most live performances, Dutch 3D "mini-opera" Blank Out will ask the audience to wear 3D glasses when it kicks off its Asia debut at The Orange in Beijing on Thursday night.

The show's organizers have been using the term "mini-opera" to describe the performance because it only involves one live performer - Katherine Manley, a soprano who performs alongside a pre-filmed 3D video featuring her baritone partner Roderick Williams. Together with the Netherlands Chamber Choir, who also feature in the film, the opera tells the story of a middle-aged man reminiscing about his deceased mother.

Experimenting with technology

"As a maker and composer now, we are surrounded by multiple electronic devices, by film and multimedia. It feels very odd to me not to allow them on stage. So they became the DNA of my pieces to tell audiences that we have used the language of technology now," the opera's composer-director Michel van der Aa told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.

Like most of composers, Van der Aa also created traditional pieces at the start of his career, but gradually began to include more elaborate visual effects and stage designs in his works. Driven by the need to experiment, he also began adding more visuals and elements from film in his stage productions.

At the performances on Thursday and Friday night, audiences will have the opportunity to observe the interaction between the sole live performer and images projected in 3D on a screen.

To make sure the Asian production lives up to the original version that premiered in the Netherlands in March of this year, the team brought all of the production's original technological equipment, while also adding some local flavor.

According to technical director Michel van der Weij, the production team has prepared a 3D video clip filmed inside The Orange especially for the China performance.

"There are a lot of challenges on the technical side that take a lot of time to develop. It brings a lot of costs to make it work," Van der Weij said at the conference, admitting that they are a day behind schedule.

 "Michel (van der Aa) was just speaking about using modern technology within his works. But actually, on the technical side, most of the time we try to step further. We are using cutting-edge technology that is not fully developed yet. So we are in the very early stages of learning techniques, especially in the 3D filming, projection, and combining real-life images."

Expanded performance

"You really should come and feel it. Opera is not limited to 'hearing' anymore. It can also be a visual feast," Tu Song, BMF's program director, told the Global Times.

Overwhelmed by Blank Out's application of 3D technology, Tu said that one of the things that makes 3D opera so important is that it can bring in far more audiences from younger generations than traditional performances. Tu also praised Van der Aa's innovative spirit, stating that artistic genres cannot survive long if they do not use creativity to get the attention of younger generations.

"I brought this show to BMF to give Chinese audiences the chance to get to know this technology and thus realize the potential possibilities that lie untapped when it comes to stage art," Tu said.

The visuals are not the only outstanding aspect of the performance in Tu's opinion. According to him, the production is also making use of surround sound technology involving 12 speakers around the venue, so audiences can enjoy the same sound quality no matter where they may choose to sit.

When talking about audience expectations, Van der Aa admitted that he hoped Chinese audiences would come into the performance with an open mind as it is not a traditional performance that "should be kept in a museum."

Although cutting-edge technology is one of the performance's main attractions, Van der Aa said he has been happy to see most audiences overseas view the work as a piece of art rather than a high-tech production.

According to Van der Aa, the lyrics used in the opera were inspired by a South African poetess who suffered from depression and ended up committing suicide through drowning when she was in her 30s. Van der Aa  was quite impressed by her poetry, and thus wrote the lyrics half based on her life and the other half based on his own original story.
Newspaper headline: ‘Visual feast’

Posted in: THEATER

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