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As Big As The Sky


In China you can dream. All around you, cities are being built at a stroke, and fantastical visions turning into concrete and steel. But where dreams become reality, be careful what you dream.

Arnoud Noordegraaf, composer, director
Adrian Hornsby, writer
Ai Weiwei, design
premiere 11 June 2015, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland Festival

‘an opera of striking invention … full of humour and sparkling performances’

— The Wire


‘original and compelling … avoids pointing a moralising finger at China, while eyeing the absurd details that create this fascinating universe’

— NRC Handelsblad


‘captivating visuals and innumerable stimulating ideas’

— Bachtrack


‘a sharp libretto … Hornsby ably turns the thumbscrews’

— de Volkskrant

European architect Sem Aers is working hard. He has to, given the speed at which the project’s moving, and the nature of it all. A commission to design an iconic megastructure in a remote village in China has lured him into visions of power and fame. Driving the project is Wu Cai, one of China’s new billionaires. Wu grew up humbly among the village’s cows and rice paddies, and now inspired by a boyhood dream, he looks to create a monument — both to himself, and to the rise of the world’s newest superpower. It calls for an architecture that is itself dreamlike, utopian, transformative …

Sem draws furiously — deliriously — but the plans keep expanding beyond him. The village needs to be demolished and rebuilt to be more “traditional”; super-hotels must be incorporated for tourists, show rooms for luxury goods …. 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. Out on the construction site, celebrity singer Qin Mulan is rehearsing an aria from a Chinese opera, which she is set to perform at the complex’s opening. Her song is beautiful. Could this be the thread he needs: a glimpse onto authentic culture, and at last the touch of something human?

As Big As The Sky is a new opera by Arnoud Noordegraaf (composer, director), Adrian Hornsby (libretto, screenplay) and Ai Weiwei (set design, film). Inspired by the rise of China, it confronts the giant construction wave that is sweeping across the country, and the dramatic collisions it creates between: traditional cultures and globalizing forces, and a once European world and a freshly Chinese future. The music merges Western Romanticism with Chinese opera, and combines these onstage with an innovative use of film, mixed-media, and design. A bold set from China’s foremost artist, Ai Weiwei, plays an integral role, featuring a giant rotating sculpture upon which drone footage of the country’s changing landscapes is projected.

  • 11-14 June 2015, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland Festival (premiere)
  • May 2016, installation version, The New Institute, Rotterdam, with OperaDagen
photography Ada Nieuwendijk
Sem Aers: Martijn Cornet, baritone
Qin Mulan: He Yi, soprano
Luo Ling: Zhang Bo, tenor
Kathy Bash: Merlijn Runia, mezzo soprano
conductor: Bas Wiegers
assistant conductor: MaNOj Kamps
orchestra: Asko | Schönberg (Mirjam Teepe, flute/piccolo; Daniël Boeke, clarinet/bass clarinet; Remko Edelaar, bassoon/contrabassoon; Jan Harshagen, horn; Frank Braafhart, trumpet; Ger de Zeeuw, percussion; Niels Meliefste, percussion; Marijke van Kooten, violin; Bernadette Verhagen, viola; Doris Hochscheid, cello; James Oesi, double bass; Wu Wei, sheng; Jelle Verstraten, soundscapes)
‘Skype scene’ choir: Cappella Amsterdam
film actors: Ai Weiwei, William Sutton, Claudia Trajano Faria, Mary Louise Moher, Sue Ann Yeoh, Henk Zwart, Chiho Totogawa, Takashi Iwaoka
art direction: Studio V’TH&V, Merel van ‘t Hullenaar & Niels Vis
deputy set designer: Bart Visser
dramaturg: Janine Brogt
Chinese translations: Qin Liwen
producer: Roland Spekle
coproduction: Holland Festival, Barooni, Asko|Schönberg
with support from: Ammodo, Fonds Podiumkunsten, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Fonds voor Hedendaagse Muziek, Adèle Wickert- fonds, Fontein Tuynhout Fonds, VSBfonds
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