Michel van der Aa’s work explores the intersection of music, movie and know-how. “Add,” his haunting new movie opera, which had its North American premiere on the Park Avenue Armory on Tuesday, skillfully harnesses all these components to ask existential questions: What does it actually imply to be alive, at the same time as know-how more and more mediates and expands the area between life and loss of life? Is it attainable to be alive—and human—with out a physique? Much more vital, is it attainable to be human with out ache?
The 85-minute piece begins in cavernous darkness. A disembodied soprano voice sings pairs of phrases which are all about physicality—“expand-lungs,” “pull-muscle,” “carry-weight.” A baritone voice joins in, alternating with its personal phrase pairs. The record ends with “weight-less,” which is the present state of one of many two fundamental characters. The story—Mr. Van der Aa wrote the eloquent libretto, along with composing the music and directing the present—is revealed by flashbacks. The Father (baritone
), profoundly depressed after the loss of life of his spouse, has submitted to a radical new process. His thoughts has been uploaded and saved on a proprietary blockchain; his bodily physique and mind have been destroyed. Publish-transfer, he’s seen to his beloved Daughter (soprano
) as an avatar with no corporeal presence. Uploads, we uncover, are minds freed of the infirmities of biology; they communicate, really feel, evolve and are everlasting.
The issues on this seemingly ideally suited answer quickly change into obvious: The Father realizes that the insufferable trauma of abandonment that he was attempting to flee continues to be a part of him. He should now persuade the Daughter to “terminate” him or he’ll endure eternally. She, who was not consulted prematurely about his add and is distraught about his new state, is confronted with the horrible prospect of getting to kill him herself.
The stage has a big display on the rear and three movable screens in entrance of it. The motion alternates between previous and current. Within the current, the Daughter seems reside and the Father is an onscreen picture. (The precise Mr. Williams is along with stage; his efficiency is transmitted in actual time through movement seize know-how.) The previous, proven in a movie that makes use of seven talking actors, traces the method of being uploaded on the clinic.
Scenes set within the current are sung and brim with messy human emotionality, notably from Ms. Bullock, who offers an unrestrained, impassioned efficiency. The craving lyricism of her arias and the power of her untrammeled anger distinction with Mr. Williams’s extra measured, articulated vocalism; Father and Daughter are arguing from completely different spheres. The 11-member orchestra,
is commonly punchy and percussion-forward, mirroring the chaotic upheaval of the characters’ actuality and its dramatic arc. When the instrumental texture smooths and thins, the characters are recalling a nostalgic previous or envisioning an unknown future. In probably the most transferring results, a funereal organ sound accompanies matching arias as the 2 ponder the potential for everlasting separation from one another.
Against this, the all-spoken scenes of the movie of the add clinic suggest a scientific confidence in perfectibility. The laboratories there are furnished with mysterious technological objects. Even creepier is the clear, company, youthful amiability of each the CEO (
) and the psychiatrist (
), who, with the intention to mannequin the Father’s mind, interviews his brother-in-law (
startlingly recognizable because the curmudgeonly vet from “All Creatures Nice and Small”). When there’s reside orchestral accompaniment for the movie, it has a loud, mechanical vibe, suggesting some stress beneath the graceful façade.
Equally, Mr. Van der Aa’s diversified, textured use of movie elsewhere within the opera goes far past illustration. Within the scenes with the Daughter within the current, it serves because the set, depicting a big New York loft and a roof backyard, however isn’t fairly static. Mr. Williams’s avatar is typically an easy copy; at others, it’s massively enlarged and pulsating in streams of pixels. Halfway by the opera Ms. Bullock sings a stunning, meditative aria that tries to image the Father’s current existence. As she muses, “That is the place you are actually,” photos unfurl round her. They might be undersea reefs, subatomic buildings or mathematical fractals—stunning however uncategorizable to her or to us.
And within the penultimate scene, because the Daughter lies in mattress, attempting to determine what to do, an enormous sheet is lowered over the viewers, exhibiting monumental video photos of the heads of Father and Daughter on their respective pillows, as if we have been at an IMAX film. Once more, they sing the phrase pairs as they did at first, and the photographs appear as actual because the people. We aren’t informed what the ultimate choice is, however right here, the 2 seem at peace with one another, simply as music, movie, and know-how have coalesced. Are we being lulled into acceptance, as we have been visually seduced by these stunning fractals? Mr. Van der Aa isn’t telling.
—Ms. Waleson writes on opera for the Journal and is the writer of “Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Loss of life of the New York Metropolis Opera and the Way forward for Opera in America” (Metropolitan).
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