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As Big As The Sky
contemporary opera
composer-director Arnoud Noordegraaf
designer Ai Weiwei
writer Adrian Hornsby
in coproduction with the Holland Festival


In China you can dream. Reality is on the move — casting in concrete shapes outlandish to gravity, and ideas that would amaze the sky. Only once you start dreaming, you lose the power to say where your dream goes …

European architect Sem Aers is working hard. He has to, given the speed at which the project’s moving. The speed and the scale. And the nature of it all. A commission to design a fantastical megastructure in a remote village in China has lured Sem into visions of power and fame. His client Wu Cai, who grew up humbly among the village’s cows and rice paddies, is now one of China’s fresh generation of self-made billionaires. Returning to his former home to realise a boyhood dream, Wu calls for a monument to be built: both to himself, and to the rise of the world’s newest superpower. It requires the creation of an architecture that is itself dreamlike, utopian, transformative.

Sem draws furiously — deliriously — but the plans keep expanding beyond him. The village needs to be rebuilt, super-hotels incorporated, stages erected for celebrity performers …. If reality can bend one way, then why not another? Just as the distortions are reaching terrifying proportions, Sem hears a woman’s voice. Below his office, Mulan is singing Chinese opera. Could this be the thread he needs: a glimpse onto an authentic culture, and at last the touch of something human?

Inspired by the rise of China, As Big As The Sky confronts the astonishing wave of building that is currently sweeping across the country, and the dramatic collisions it creates between traditional culture, globalizing forces, and new forms of media; and between a once European world, and a new modernity with Chinese characteristics.

As Big As The Sky merges Western Romanticism with Chinese opera, and combines these onstage with an innovative use of film, mixed-media, and original installation art. It is a new full-length work from Arnoud Noordegraaf (composer-director), Ai Weiwei (designer) and Adrian Hornsby (writer).


in coproduction with the Holland Festival

3–4 March, 2011 (Odeon Theatre, Zwolle, Netherlands)

He Yi, soprano
Jussi Lehtipuu, baritone
Naomi Sato, sheng; Frank Wienk, percussion
set design: Bart Visser

link to video excerpt from work in progress production