Notes on Michel van der Aa’s ‘After Life’ UK premiere

I’ve no real time for a proper write up of tonight’s research-watching at the Barbican so I’m making these notes instead [mostly for me but if you’re planning on seeing it any time soon, they’re worthy of consideration]:
  • Certain elements came across as crass when attempting extremes of emotion [yes, I know that understanding opera means having a different perspective and patience with teasing out emotion but it wasn’t the libretto’s fault in these cases – i.e. the interaction between a character coming to a painful conclusion on projected screen and on stage while the character appeared both on stage and screen, as usual with ‘dramatic’ moments, the director had the singer thrash about on stage while in the film he threw objects out the way and threw himself at the glass of the video/projection screen…sigh.]
  • I was surprised to read afterword that can der Aa is the composer as well as the librettist-director – the direction and the music seemed completely unconnected and didn’t acknowledge each other…
  • …if aural discordance [and thus audience distancing] with the stage/screen action was the point, why then did he pack in real people character studies as well as his characters –
  • this too led to a focus on the character-study films [mostly without music, sometimes but also, at points, really quite sentimental] as a higher form between all the media used.
  • The best moment of the whole piece was an interestingly long silence with no action.
  • Unfortunately, at moments I did find myself wincing and then shaking my head a little – was I trying to engage too much?
  • Characters on the stage are unexplored as well as they could be because we have way too many of them – in total, there are ten characters: two of which I empathised ever-so-slightly with and both of whom weren’t ever on stage but on film as the real life character studies.
  • Good set design and a great idea to have the orchestra as part of the many objects and memories of the transient souls…just why couldn’t any of the music played by said orchestra-objects relate to the characters’ memories [in the subtlest of ways – i.e. not just giving one character a particular instrument in the Baroque arrangement but, say, if the character were American giving them a small jazz melody amidst a quiet moment in the madness of the score]
  • Why all the film references in an opera?
  • If film (art) becomes memory (life) then why isn’t the title ‘Before Death’? I.e. much of what is presented, philosophically, is never explored but left up to us to do so and in doing so presumes we’re entirely familiar with a Western-Christian complex of a supposed afterlife.

Notes done with, I’m going to watch Doctor Who.


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