Michel van der Aa / Works / 

The Book of Water

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The Book of Water is a chamber music theatre project based upon the novella Man in the Holocene by Swiss author Max Frisch. The work centres around the character of Geiser, a 73-year-old widower, who is dealing with memory loss.

In the adaptation of Frisch’s book by Michel van der Aa and dramaturg Madelon Kooijman extra focus is given to the continuous rain and flooding isolating Geiser in his house. These dangerous weather events link the work to the current topic of climate change. Not only is Geiser’s mind eroding; the landscape is also crumbling away, since the rainstorms raging outside are causing landslides and flooding. The Book of Water is a chillingly beautiful portrait of a man who is surrounded by erosion, nature’s and his own, and who struggles for one last moment of clarity in which to make sense of himself and of civilisation.

The text in The Book of Water will be spoken by the actor on stage, and parts of the narrative will be shown in the film projections. The string quartet will be on stage with the actor and is an integral part of the scenography.

The film is projected on surfaces made of stretched curtains that are positioned around and between the performers. The actor is able to create new visual perspectives by moving the curtains, following the dramatic arc of the piece. The film layer will feature prerecorded footage of the story’s protagonist Geiser, his daughter, and the villagers. The characters on film will interact with the live actor and the musicians, extending the scenography on stage.

Libretto / plot
Mr. Geiser, an elderly man living in a remote village, is cut off from the outside world. Incessant rains in August have caused a landslide, and he wonders if the village will be wiped out by the rising water. Geiser is afraid he is losing his memory. He writes things down on bits of paper and tacks them to the wall. He is particularly interested in the subject of water, the manifestations of thunder, and defining the place of mankind in the history of the earth. He begins ordering the things he knows by cutting out entries from encyclopaedias, along with passages from the Bible and other books, until what he knows becomes a jumble of only semi-coherent ideas. His daughter arrives, after days of trying to get hold of him on the phone. The last clipping describes the symptoms of a stroke.

The Book of Water charts Geiser’s desperate attempt to find his place in history and in the confusing and fragile world outside his window.

Cast and team
Narrator/Geiser, young (live) – Samuel West
Geiser, elderly (film) – Timothy West
Corinne (soprano, film) – Mary Bevan
Composition, director, script – Michel van der Aa
Dramaturgy – Madelon Kooijman
Light design – Bart van den Heuvel

Technical information
The production is designed with a quick technical set-up and breakdown time in mind. We’re aiming for a set-up on the day of the performance itself. The stage elements will be built from the ground up, there’s no need to fly parts of the set or screens from the trusses or a fly bar system.

The musicians of the quartet will trigger and control the electronic soundtrack and start the film clips. This means that the film and soundtrack stay in synch with the tempo and timing of the performers. The actor and string quartet will use subtle amplification and will be mixed with the surround-sound electronic soundtrack.
We will provide the full set, including the screens and video projectors. The presenter is asked to provide a simple light set-up, and a surround (quadraphonic) sound system. We can provide a technical rider with an equipment list when the performance has been fully worked out.


Chamber music theatre

1 Actor (live)
1 Actor (film)
1 Soprano (film)

String quartet

Film, 3 channels
Soundtrack, 2 channels




First Performance

19 September 2022
Teatro Goldoni, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

Commissioned by

Venice Biennale, Ensemble Modern, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, November Music, Philharmonie Cologne. Hong Kong Arts Festival, and Tongyeong Festival.

With support of Ammodo, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Cultuurfonds Bank Nederlandse Gemeenten, Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, stichting Reinbert de Leeuw, and Société Gavigniès.


Boosey & Hawkes


Upcoming performance

11 November 2022

The Book of Water (Dutch premiere)

Samuel West, actor. Amsterdam Sinfonietta. Timothy West, actor (film), Mary Bevan, soprano (film)

Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Last performance

19 September 2022

The Book of Water (World premiere)

Samuel West, actor. Ensemble Modern. Timothy West, actor (film), Mary Bevan, soprano (film)

Teatro Goldoni, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

All performances of The Book of Water