Which one memory would you choose to take to eternity? This is the question posed by After Life, a film by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, and now an opera by Dutch composer and film-maker Michel van der Aa.
The opera’s characters are about to trade their earthly existence for a place in heaven. They are allowed to choose a key moment from their lives to relive in the form of a film that they can take with them to eternity.
Skillfully combining live stage action with film, music and an electro-acoustic sound-world, After Life uses multiple perspectives to explore our human need to discover meaning in the ordinary details of everyday life.
This Barbican performance features the original cast members from the 2006 world premiere, including Claron McFadden, an American soprano whose versatile voice is sought out by Baroque and jazz performers alike, and the wonderfully communicative British bass Roderick Williams.
part of Present Voices
Hirokazu Kore-Eda libretto
Michel van der Aa director/video-script and direction
Robby Duiveman costumes
ASKO / Schoenberg Ensemble
Otto Tausk musical direction
Claron McFadden Chief
Helena Rasker Bryna
Margriet van Reijsen Ilana
Yvette Bonner Sarah
Richard Suart Mr Walter
Roderick Williams Aiden
The opera is set at a way station between Earth and heaven. Those who have just died may choose a favourite memory to take with them to eternity, assisted by guides who have already been through the experience themselves.
Aidan, a young man, is chosen to assist the 70 year old Mr Walter; a task that he finds extremely difficult. Mr Walter watches videotapes of his life and can only see his failures. Mr Walter’s young wife Kira appears on the screen and Aidan becomes obsessed with her. It becomes clear that Aidan is actually 72, but has kept the appearance of a 22 year old.
The camera team assembles to begin filming. Aidan’s assistant Sarah is jealous of Aidan’s interest in Kira, for she and Aidan have a relationship. Recordings are made of the lives of the dead. We realise that the guides who work at this ‘transit stop’ are there because they have not yet been able to choose a memorty from their own lives.
The newly dead watch the film recordings and choose their memory, after which they proceed onwards to heaven. Aidan understands that his sight of Kira is the memory that he wants to take with him. He chooses to leave Sarah behind and to proceed to heaven. But when Aidan actually sees the film crew at work on recording his memory, he changes his mind, realising that Sarah is the one that he never wants to forget. Crushed, she remains behind.
The following day another group of the newly dead arrive and Sarah takes Aidan’s place.
Michel van der Aa is one of Europe’s most sought-after composers today. For Van der Aa, music is more than organized sound or a structuring of notes. His music has expressive power, combining sounds and scenic images in a play of changing perspectives. Van der Aa's recent stage works show a successful involvement as a film and stage director as well as composer. “Van der Aa, stage director and mastermind as well as composer, pushes the boundaries of all of his media. This is the Gesamtkunst of the future.” (Financial Times)
Van der Aa's works often include a theatrical element: staging, film and music are seamlessly interwoven. Dramatic personages take on various identities or have an alter ego; musicians on the stage interact with their electronic counterparts on soundtrack or film.
Having completed his training as a recording engineer at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Michel van der Aa studied composition with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen.
In 2002 Van der Aa completed a program in film directing at the New York Film Academy. In 2007 he participated in the Lincoln Center Theater Director's Lab, an intensive course in stage direction. He was responsible for the stage direction as well as the conception and creation of the film segments in the operas One and After Life and the music theatre piece The Book of Disquiet. His film directing credits include the short film Passage as well as the television production of One for the Dutch national broadcasting company NPS. Passage has been shown at numerous international festivals and has been aired on Dutch national television. In applying staging, film images and soundtracks as additional instruments, he effectively extends the vocabulary of his music.
Submit your one memory which you would take with you into the After Life, and a lucky few will be illustrated by Augustine Coll>. We’ll be asking Michel van der Aa to choose his favourite memory and the author of that memory will win a framed print of Augustine Coll’s illustration.