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What if our minds could live forever? Recent advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience mean that we will soon be able to map our memories and experiences, and to use these data to build a digital consciousness identical with our own. These ‘whole brain emulations’ will be able to carry on indefinitely after our deaths: a way of virtual resurrection. But where do our identities really reside? In our minds, our bodies, or our relationships? And how far do the data of our lives determine our fate?
Upload will explore these ancient philosophical questions against the backdrop of present-day and near-future technologies.

Dutch National Opera and its co-commission partners Opera Cologne, Park Avenue Armory New York, Bregenzer Festspiele, doubleA foundation, and Ensemble Musikfabrik will co-produce the World Premiere of Upload, a new opera by Dutch artist Michel van der Aa.

Upload tells the story of a father, who suffers a severe trauma, and a daughter. It features two timelines: the present (shortly after the upload of the father) and the recent past in which the upload process takes place. In these flashbacks, we see the technology used for the uploading: motion capture and foley recordings. During this process the physical body dies. The father is treated by a psychiatrist and two technicians in a Swiss laboratory. Conversations with family and friends with all kinds of memories emphasize the failing of memory and implicitly the inaccuracy of the upload process. In between we see moments from the present: the daughter wasn’t aware of her father’s ardent wish to be uploaded in order to reduce his trauma. This process fails; the father puts his fate in his daughter’s hands. She has to decide whether or not she will delete him, a form of digital euthanasia.

photo: Marco Borggreve

Cast, stage
Julia Bullock – daughter
Roderick Williams – father
Ensemble MusikFabrik, cond. Otto Tausk

Cast, film
Katja Herbers
Ashley Zukerman
Esther Mugambi
Samuel West
Claron McFadden
David Eeles
Tessa Stephenson

Extras: Mimmie Idenburg, Hank Botwinik, Sylvia van der Meis-Strauss, Stephane Fructus, Dorien Cudogham, Annelein Greveling, Tamara Friedman, Yannick Hulsebosch

Team
Michel van der Aa – Composer, director, libretto
Otto Tausk – Musical director
Theun Mosk – Scenography & light
Elske van Buuren – costume design
Madelon Kooijman, Niels Nuijten – Dramaturges

Joost Rietdijk – Director of Photography
Darien Brito – Motion capture and real-time graphics
Tom Gelissen – Sounddesign
Simon Hendry – Play-out operator
Julius Horsthuis – VFX Supervisor & Fractal Artist

Djoere de Jong – Production Manager
Siemen van der Werf – Technical director
Rosita Wouda (doubleA foundation) – Financial director

Trailer

Reviews

Opera Upload a success at the Bregenz Festival

The strength of Upload is the perfect interplay of its various disciplines. The interaction of the images on the screen and the singers on the stage, the interplay between analogue and digital music, the transition from singing to the delicate sounds of the ensemble are so successful that the individual elements are no longer recognizable as such. […]

A musical arc of tension runs from the first to the last minute, which is due not only to the masterful presentation, but also to the composition. The musicians provided an evening of operatic suspense for the audience, who expressed their enthusiasm with long applause and shouts of bravo.
– Austrian Press Agency

An opera opens up new spaces

Vivid images and multi-layered, with gripping music and two strong voices […] Using different media, the Dutch director and composer creates a perfectly coordinated total work that arouses emotions and opens the mind. With all the technology that is used here, the focus is on the story of father and daughter […]
In the dialogues and monologues, the audience feels the relationship between the two and the character of the father – his doubts, his depression, even though he was a humorous person. The daughter’s longing for her father is heart-breaking. In a touching scene, soprano Julia Bullock opens the space to the whole universe: in a landscape that is nowhere, her father is now there. The visuals and the singing open eyes, ears and heart. Very beautiful! […]
The Ensemble Musikfabrik, directed by Otto Tausk, creates worlds both furiously dramatic and warmly tender. The live music is a duet with electronic sounds so perfectly prepared that the boundaries are blurred. In particular, the performance of the singers ensures highpoints.
– Neue Vorarlberger Tageszeitung

Successful premiere at the Bregenz Festival

The brain is the last analogue device in a digital world”, says one of the characters in the film opera Upload, which had its successful premiere at the Bregenz Festival. The Dutch composer and multidisciplinary artist Michel van der Aa plays out the idea of self-digitisation with all its consequences. […]
Musically, van der Aa also works characteristically with an interlacing of analogue and digital sounds, employing electronic alienation and playback. Driven, sometimes minimalist-repetitive passages that accompany the argument between father and daughter shift with calmer sounds towards almost meditative pictorial landscapes.
The plot also gets an operatic twist: the father realises that the trauma with which he suffered continues to torment him after the upload. Desperate, he asks his daughter to delete him – a mighty decision she does not want to take. For the grief and pain of the father and the dilemma of the daughter Van der Aa finds poignant moments that are wonderfully delivered by the two vocal soloists.
Michel van der Aa leaves the drama’s outcome open. What decision the daughter makes is not known. Maybe one day there will be a sequel? In any case, we want this work to survive, with a life on many stages and beyond the upload of its online version, likely developed because of the Corona crisis.
– Südkurier

Powerful both in sound and images

The Dutch composer Michel van der Aa wants to know whether man could be successful in trying to attain eternal life. His opera Upload, premiered at the Bregenz Festival, gives a sad answer that is powerful both in sound and images. […]
Michel van der Aa’s pliable music conveys the intimacy of the father-daughter relationship to the audience. His music finds sounds for the seductive promises of science as well as for the emotional states of people: between life weariness, hope, fear, tenderness and a vague, distant vision of salvation.
– Der Westallgäuer

A unique view on humanity

The plot of the film opera Upload by Michel van der Aa, premiered in Bregenz, deals with a topic that is seriously speculated upon under the heading of artificial intelligence, but has just as much comedic as profound potential. […]
In general, the piece offers a unique view on humanity. Michel van der Aa, who came up with the idea for the piece, text, staging and music, emphasizes that his interest is in social and ethical questions. As a multimedia artist with a flair for new techniques as well as for the traditional magic of operatic singing, he is predestined for a new musical theatre that not only applies media techniques to opera, but also makes them the dramatic focus.

– roccosound.ch

Important questions and encouraged further thinking

“Upload” addressed existential questions about the physical and mental power of life with a lot of technology, film art, live and electronic music. The focus was on the emotionally charged soprano Julia Bullock and the expressive baritone Roderick Williams. The underlying innovative and elaborate technology had a pleasantly modest effect within the artistic process.

The composer, librettist and director bundled this diversity into a meaningful artistic whole. The plot is told quickly, the abysses and the resulting questions open up within the context of the story. Michel van der Aa tells the story in his film opera on two levels. On the one hand there is the encounter between the father and the daughter. On the other hand, the process of uploading is explained in documentary form in the form of video recordings. First, these feeds stimulated the course of action. The striking pragmatics and logic of the digitization and upload specialist gave food for thought and showed humor.

Michel van der Aa composed dense music for the daughter and the father, which lived mainly through the good combination of real, composed passages and electronic sounds. Julia Bullock and Roderick Williams embodied their roles with a large stage presence and excellent vocals. The musicians of the Ensemble Filmfabrik under the direction of Otto Tausk played out the densely set textures with virtuosity. In particular, the psychological interpretation of the daughter, impulsively defending herself against her father’s upload, and the father’s replica were modeled succinctly. Due to the tight movement patterns, dominant tone repetitions and the distinctive use of percussion, the anxiety took up a lot of space and increased the tension. Michel van der Aa asked important questions in his film opera “Upload” and encouraged further thinking.
– kulturzeitschrift, Silvia Thurner

Instrumentation

Film opera
2019-2020

1 Soprano
1 Baritone

1 Flute
1 Clarinet in B-flat
1 Trumpet in C
1 Horn in F

1 Keyboard player (Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3*)
1 Percussion player

2 Violins
1 Violas
1 Violoncellos
1 Double bass (low C string)

Soundtrack (Surround, laptop, 1 player)
Film (multiple screens)

*can be high-quality sampled instruments, like Spectrasonics Keyscape and IK Multimedia Hammond B-3X.

Details

Duration

85′

First performance

1 October 2021
Stopera, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Commissioned by

Dutch National Opera, Opera Cologne, Bregenzer Festspiele, MusikFabrik, Park Avenue Armory, doubleA Foundation

Publisher

Boosey & Hawkes

Performances

Upcoming performance


1 October 2021

Upload (Dutch premiere)

Julia Bullock, Roderick Williams
Ensemble MusikFabrik, cond. Otto Tausk
Dutch National Opera

Stopera, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Last performance


30 July 2021

Upload

Julia Bullock, Roderick Williams
Ensemble MusikFabrik, cond. Otto Tausk

Bregenzer Festspiele, Bregenz, Austria

All performances of Upload

News

19 September 2021

Dutch premiere of “Upload”

Five staged performances of Upload are presented by Dutch National Opera this autumn, opening in Amsterdam on 1 October and starring singers Julia Bullock and Roderick Williams. Otto Tausk conducts Ensemble Musikfabrik and the direction of the stage production and immersive film are by the composer....

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25 April 2021

Michel van der Aa’s new film opera “Upload” on stage and screen

“Upload”, the new film opera by Michel van der Aa exploring how life could become eternal in the digital sphere, receives its stage premiere at the Bregenz Festival on 29 July. A film version will be screened by Medici TV and streamed by Dutch National Opera from 19 July. The world stage...

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