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Blank Out

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Using the intersecting and reflecting planes of live action and video to explore the human condition, Blank Out centres on a dialogue between a man and his mother. The libretto is based upon the work and life of South African poet Ingrid Jonker. A deeply human story, Blank Out uses innovative techniques of interactive 3D film and electronic music to consider memory and the way in which people reconstruct and deal with traumatic life events.

The set of Blank Out is constructed in miniature, like an architect’s model. A 3D film acts as a backdrop, and is projected live via a camera that the singer moves around the model. As the woman moves the camera she not only changes her visual surroundings but also appears to be ‘playing’ her environment.

The impression is given to the audience of being both within and outside of an abstract country house. Musically, the text begins disjointed, but as words loop and accumulate the story of some unnamed trauma begins to emerge. As reality and the world of the model begin to blur, a man appears on screen. We discover that the woman’s words are connected to his; he is her son, and she drowned when he was a child. He is left to reconstruct the painful memories of his past.

Blank Out is a coproduction of Dutch National Opera with the Lucerne Festival, and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.

Miah Persson & Roderick Williams

A woman, alone onstage, is lost. She sings fragmented texts, recording herself with a video camera. Her sentences gradually become complete and coherent. We learn of a devastating trauma that took place in 1976, when her son was seven years old. From the edge of the dike near their house she watched him swim, then drown. She was paralysed, unable to act.
The woman shares memories of her son while slowly building a small model house. She reconstructs and explains her relationship with her son, exploring her emotional displacement from him. As the line between reality and the world of the model begins to blur, a man appears on screen.
The man sings a duet with the woman’s recording from earlier in the opera, filling out her story of that day in 1976. He also experienced a trauma: the woman on stage is his mother, who died that day – she drowned saving his life.
In taking us back to the accident, the man adds a new perspective to the events. We realise the woman on stage is a reconstruction of his memory. They sing together, dance together. As the piece builds to a climax, the woman drowns in her own words while the man desperately clings to his treasured memories.
The woman disappears from stage. The man mourns her.

Blank Out’s text and characters include elements by the South African poet Ingrid Jonker. The story, however, is not biographical.

Woman – Miah Persson
Man – Roderick Williams (film)
Nederlands Kamerkoor (film)
Klaas Stok – conductor

Director, concept – Michel van der Aa
Dramaturge – Sophie Motley
Lighting – Floriaan Ganzevoort
Production development – Frank van der Weij
Movement advice – Thom Stuart
Director of photography – Joost Rietdijk
Film producer – Melvin Kant, William Griffioen

Miah Persson

Roderick Williams


A wonderfully fluent and effective piece of music theatre

“Michel van der Aa’s new opera, featuring video, 3D effects and passages of prerecorded music, is compellingly performed by Miah Persson and Roderick Williams.
The English text – Van der Aa’s own, incorporating extracts from poems by the South African poet Ingrid Jonker, who drowned herself at the age of 31 – is sung in long, smoothly contoured lines that constantly return to the same melodic shapes. Persson’s live singing combines with replayed loops of herself on film to create haunting ensembles, and at the opera’s climax her lines are counterpointed with those of Williams on film too, each character locked into his or her own sense of reality.
Williams sings with his usual intelligence and compelling sincerity on the film, while the live performance is an astonishing tour de force for Persson, meticulous in its detail, and perfectly controlled. Though enigmatic and at times mystifying, the whole piece becomes a wonderfully fluent and effective piece of music theatre.”
— ★★★★ The Guardian, Andrew Clements, 22-3-2016

Fascinating, characteristic Van der Aa music

In Van der Aa’s Blank Out the Swedish soprano Miah Persson gives a compelling performance that includes a cappella, later singing duets and trios with her own alter egos on film. Fascinating, characteristic Van der Aa music which, more than usually, draws from a more lyrical spring for this story of loss and mourning.
— Trouw, Peter van der Lint, 26-03-2016

Roderick Williams

Blank Out pushes operatic boundaries

“Some have called it a historic world premiere and that may well be true. With his performance of Blank Out Michel van der Aa has in any case created an opera that in many ways considerably pushes the boundaries of the genre. The Swedish soprano Miah Persson not only has the vocal talent to grab her audience by the throat with an infusion of suspense, her acting also draws it into an enthralling universe of emotions. Her adult son’s appearance on film makes the feeling that the two characters are each in a different world breathtakingly perceptible.”
— Noordhollands Dagblad, Hans Visser, 22-3-2016

Impeccable and enthralling opera

“Michel van der Aa surpasses himself in the opera Blank Out. This multimedia specialist once again deals with life and death, youth and old age, here and in the hereafter. In so doing he seems to be coming closer and closer to the crux of what he really wants to say and, in this impeccable production, he has surpassed himself. We see her character split with an astonishing sense of naturalness into two and even three, and enter into a “dialogue” with herself and then her child (the baritone Roderick Williams), who only appears in the film. Persson sings her graceful, sweeping lines with flawless intonation and commitment and Williams, who previously appeared in After Life and Sunken Garden, responds in kind.
In addition to Persson’s and Williams’ outstanding performances, there is a star role for the Nederlands Kamerkoor which, on the soundtrack, alternates Renaissance-like polyphonic melismas with swinging snatches of barbershop harmony.
Quite moving is when mother and son “dance” together after she has “saved” him from a boiling stream of lava – red-lit aluminium foil which she pulls onto the stage from under his film bench. […] Impeccable and enthralling opera in which, more than ever before, Van der Aa’s reveals a keen sense of lyricism and emotional eloquence.”
— Cultureelpersbureau, Thea Derks, 21-3-2016

High-tech opera blends pleasure with primeval fear

“Perhaps, as so often, the composer-producer-librettist has drawn from the unfathomable source of a multi-interpretable dream of primal fears perceived consciously or otherwise. In any case the result is highly enjoyable, magical music and images without our fully understanding what exactly it’s all about […] In Blank Out Van der Aa has explored the boundaries of what is technically possible. Persson films herself on stage and her images blend with earlier film material of Williams or a cottage on the dike. The effect is quite often enchanting. The choral music is frequently sonorous, the electronics produce wonderful combinations of sounds or sometimes functional rasping and clicking and, at the best moments, the vocal parts are highly lyrical […]”
— ★★★★ Het Parool, Erik Voermans, 21-3-2016

Enormous poetic and suggestive power

“Blank Out is more than a technical feat. It is a fascinating mixture of film, music and acting. Commissioned by De Nationale Opera, Blank Out is so cleverly constructed that halfway through you forget you’re watching a 3-D opera. Film, music, acting: everything blends seamlessly together. Pure magic: a soprano sings a duet with herself and with a baritone who is not even actually on stage. The former recalls the drowning of her seven-year-old son, whilst the latter remembers how his mother drowned in an attempt to save his life. During the performance the two realities continually enter into a dialogue with each other and give the opera depth.
In doing so Van der Aa creates tension between physical and digital reality and creatively investigates a variety of forms of interaction. What you see and what you hear have enormous poetic and suggestive power […] the intriguing Van der Aa sound: a kaleidoscopic assortment of occasionally Gregorian-esque vocal music, pop music and sounds such as the knocking of stones and grinding gravel. Van der Aa has written a wonderful, colourful score sublimely performed by the singers of the Nederlands Kamerkoor and the two soloists (Miah Persson and Roderick Williams).”
— ★★★★ Theaterkrant, Oswin Schneeweisz, 20-3-2016

Opera Forward!

“(Van der Aa) mixes eighties beats and techno, the clear voices of the soloists and the Nederlands Kamerkoor in an amazingly slick combination. And, as always, this creative craftsman juggles with time perception and plot. Van der Aa accurately intertwines the actions and plays with the boundary between screen and stage to within a millimetre. The fact that he not only writes the music but also provides a libretto and then produces the whole is no longer news. Van der Aa is going from strength to strength and is refining his theatrical palette on the firm foundation of his musical idiom. Opera Forward!”
— ★★★★ Trouw, Frederike Berntsen, 22-3-2016

Van der Aa is nearing his masterpiece step-by-step

“[…] the libretto based on work by the South African poetess Ingrid Jonker which, in fluctuating between hermeticism and plain language, proves to be an ideal foundation for Van der Aa’s own musical mix of sleep and wakefulness, floating lyricism and concrete angularity.
Van der Aa’s music is frequently not only unusually beautiful, it also succeeds in presenting a highly individual blend of a cappella choral music, soundtrack, lyrical vocal lines and thumping techno as a natural amalgam. But eclectic? Van der Aa’s versatility is our real musical world. Miah Persson, the only live character on stage, has with her clear treble and motherly alto a voice to love and it imparts additional depth to the drama. Roderick Williams sings outstandingly and is convincing in the spoken flashbacks. These semi-documentary passages have additional value because they bring the story close by, whereas opera often uses artifice as an outlet for our own emotional engagement. After 75 minutes one is left with questions that both tease and please. All you can be certain of is your own curiosity: about Van der Aa’s next work.”
— ★★★★ NRC, Mischa Spel, 22-3-2016

Just say Aa, if you want something good

“As van der Aa’s music progresses the soprano’s voices expands into recorded singing of the Netherlands Chamber Choir. The harmonies are pretty simple, strong and beautiful. Electronic effects and electronic rhythms provide additional levels of music. […] the libretto skillfully utilizes the texts of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker. […] Blank Out is worth checking out, as well as for classical and modern music lovers and for lovers of IDM (intellectual dance music) instead of EDM. […] Soprano Katherine Manley sang and performed very touchingly. The Netherlands chamber choir sung brilliantly and Roderick Williams did a great job.”
— Helsingin Sanomat, Vesa Sirén, 6-2-2017

Every element of this production was stunning

“Breathtaking ‘Blank Out’ […] As an artist, Van der Aa thrives at the intersection of music, film, and stage theatre, and his chamber opera Blank Out is possibly his most remarkable combination of live action and video projections to date. […] an astonishing narrative inspired by the life and works of South African poet Ingrid Jonker. […] Every element of this production was stunning. As the woman, Katherine Manley not only held the responsibility of sustaining the action on stage entirely by herself, but she was also tasked with moving video equipment, manipulating props, and performing alongside fixed, pre-recorded sound and film. In addition to mastering these technical challenges, she gave a riveting and exceptionally precise vocal performance. Roderick Williams’ powerful yet sensitive baritone was as impressionable on film as the action on the stage. Van der Aa’s libretto masterfully weaves together the poetry of Ingrid Jonker and his own texts, and the score successfully reflects both atmosphere and time. […] a must-see production.”
— I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, Amanda Cook, 24.2.2017

Rarely have modern techniques and ancient musical virtues coexisted more naturally

“Intimacy also distinguished Michel van der Aa’s high-tech opera “Blank Out,” which the Armory presented in late September. Tightly staged by the composer, it might as well have been in a small black-box theatre. Van der Aa is a master of many media: the production incorporated video projections of his own devising, and involved only one live performer, the luminous soprano Miah Persson. At the same time, its deft, fluid vocal writing conveyed a piercing story, of a mother who dies rescuing her boy from drowning. (The baritone Roderick Williams, on video, portrayed the boy as a grown man.) Rarely have modern techniques and ancient musical virtues coexisted more naturally. Van der Aa, like Fure, uses technology to get at something elemental: for him, the long reach of memory; for her, the irreversibility of change.”
— The New Yorker, Alex Ross, 23-10-2017

Enigmatic New Opera

“Van der Aa proves a master of allusion […] Mr. van der Aa is also a master — a full-out virtuoso — of mixed media”
— New York Times, James R. Oestreich, 22-09-2017

Parallel symmetries and random synchronicities

“Lying at the core of Van der Aa’s music is an aesthetic that runs counter to the notion of a postmodern condition overloaded with contradictory narratives, multiple images and superficial simulacra. Few composers have managed to articulate today’s crisis of identity with such potent force and individuality as Van der Aa. Alongside earlier striking multimedia works such as One and Up-Close, Blank Out’s characters grapple with ghosts of memories past in order to exorcise a traumatic moment that changed their lives forever.

Despite Blank Out’s bleak scenario, Van der Aa’s music is by no means all gloom and doom. Even the jagged lines of Persson’s opening aria reflects regret rather than outrage. Later, a powerful, pulsing electronic soundtrack is used to generate pace and drama, especially during the instrumental interlude in Scene 3, where a camera shot tracks rapidly across fields and rivers towards the mother and son’s house. The recorded sequences featuring Nederlands Kamerkoor also take on an affective poignancy as the opera unfolds, and at the end of Blank Out one is left with the impression that Van der Aa’s searching music is constantly seeking out those strange scars that lie in the sonic dust, to paraphrase Jonker.”
— ★★★★★ Bachtrack, Pwyll ap Sion, 14 July 2019

Disturbing and unforgettable

“Michel van der Aa is a pioneer, creating operas that inextricably merge music, live performance, and 3-D film. […]The searing music of the arias illuminates the poetry, while the haunting electronic background, which sounds like a tape being played backward, provides yet another level. […]It is impossible to separate the visuals from the music, and the effect is disturbing and unforgettable.”
— Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson, 28-09-2017

Deeply moving

“Do not miss Blank Out, the idiosyncratic, haunting, and deeply moving opera by the Dutch composer and filmmaker Michel van der Aa. […] Van der Aa’s example serves nevertheless to show what’s possible when powerful music, refined text, inventive stagecraft, and an affirmative embrace of technology are all brought to bear by someone who clearly has faith in opera’s potential to provide a vital, exciting, inimitable experience.”
— The Log journal, Steve Smith, 21-09-2017

Stunning precision and ingenuity

“The Dutch composer Michel van der Aa has masterfully captured the complex elements of memory, loss, and identity in the U.S. premiere of his chamber opera Blank Out. […] Blank Out achieves its highest and most memorable moments where the real and unreal, virtual and physical, representational image and object, are wed together with stunning precision and ingenuity, releasing one from any need to choose between two worlds. […] Van der Aa probes the depths of traumatic loss and pushes chamber opera to new realms”
— Huffington Post, Marlynn Wei, 23-09-2017


Chamber opera
Miah Persson, Roderick Williams, Nederlands Kamerkoor
Libretto after Ingrid Jonker
1:19 min. teaser

Chamber opera
Roderick Williams, Nederlands Kamerkoor
Libretto after Ingrid Jonker
5:11 min. excerpt

Chamber opera
Miah Persson, Roderick Williams, Nederlands Kamerkoor
3:47 min. trailer


Chamber opera


Baritone (film)
Choir (film)

Surround soundtrack
3D film projection, live and pre-recorded




First performance

20 March 2016
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Commissioned by

Nationale Opera, Lucerne Festival, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. With financial support of Nederlands Kamerkoor, Ammodo, Fonds Podiumkunsten, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst


Boosey & Hawkes


Last performance

28 May 2023

Blank Out

Miah Persson, soprano. Roderick Williams (film), Nederlands Kamerkoor (film)

Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All performances of Blank Out


12 May 2023

‘Blank Out’ returns to Amsterdam

Michel van der Aa’s acclaimed chamber opera Blank Out is returning to the city where it had its world premiere in 2016. After touring through 11 countries, the opera will be performed at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ on 28 May. Van der Aa has quite a high profile at the Muziekgebouw at th...

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25 October 2017

Rave reviews for US premiere of Blank Out

Miah Persson Michel van der Aa’s 3D chamber opera Blank Out has completed a highly successful US premiere run in New York. All five performances at the Park Avenue Armory in September were sold out, and the work received rave reviews from the press. James R. Oestreich of The New York Times called...

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17 June 2016

Italian premiere of ‘Blank Out’ on May 31

Miah Persson May 31 sees the Italian premiere of Michel van der Aa’s chamber opera for soprano and 3D film Blank Out at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome. The one-off performance forms part of Teatro dell’opera di Roma’s Fast Forward Festival, and will be sung by Miah Persson. It follow...

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25 May 2016

World premiere of new 3D film opera, Blank Out

Miah Persson Michel van der Aa’s new chamber opera, Blank Out will be premiered in March at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam. Commissioned by Dutch National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival, it is based upon the life and work of Ingrid Jonker. Sometimes described as the “South African Sy...

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14 January 2016

Update on Blank Out

Roderick Williams Just two months before its world premiere, work is progressing quickly on Van der Aa’s new 3D chamber opera, Blank Out. Building on the technical innovation of Sunken Garden, Blank Out combines live action and 3D video to explore the nature of memory and the effects of trauma. I...

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