A One-of-a-Kind 3-D Opera

Dutch composer Michel van der Aa extends his already-broad musical vocabulary with the North American premiere of his haunting visual opera.

Miah Persson and Roderick Williams; Photo courtesy of Marco Borggreve

Expect theater on an epic scale with Blank Out. Conceptualized by renowned Dutch composer Michel van der Aa, the chamber opera has been adapted to maximize the Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall—a 55,000-square-foot behemoth with a soaring vaulted roof used for military exercises in the 19th century—for its North American premiere. The scale of the stage alone is wildly impressive.

The piece blends video, 3-D effects, and prerecorded and live music to tell the story of a mother and son who are both trying to reconstruct memories of the life they shared before a tragic event. The mother is played by Swedish soprano Miah Persson, and the character is based on Ingrid Jonker, a South African poet and literary icon who was known for her surrealistic verses. The son is played by opera singer Roderick Williams, and the Netherlands Chamber Choir provides some eerie musical stylings for the film as well. The result is a powerful exploration of grief and the subjective nature of memory.

Blank Out; photo courtesy of Marco Borggreve

The opera has already received rave reviews. When it premiered at the Dutch National Opera last year, The Guardian gave it four stars and called it “a wonderfully fluent and effective piece of music theater.” Persson’s vocal performance was hailed as “an astonishing tour de force.” Since its debut, the opera has toured the world.

And there’s good reason to believe that the new setting will only make this show more compelling. As van der Aa told us, “I’m completely in love with the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, which is such an amazing, huge space. It’s industrial, but at same time, it can also feel like an intimate living room.”

He adds, “We’re going to use the armory to extend the stage. There will be wide panoramas as well as superfocused, intimate moments. We’ve also created a strong new visual that the audience will see when they enter. It will pull them into the piece.”

Why You Should Go: Experience the work of a composer who is on the forefront of contemporary opera. Now, for the North American premiere, it’s been reinvented with a panoramic footprint.

Blank Out
Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Avenue (between East 66th and 67th Streets), Upper East Side
September 21–25 and 27
Tickets start at $40