• Find us on Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Follow us on Instagram
  • View Our YouTube Channel
  • Listen on Spotify
  • View our scores on nkoda

English Deutsch
Music Text

Libretto by Michel van der Aa, with text excerpts from the novella 'Man in the Holocene' by Max Frisch (E)


actor; string quartet

Abbreviations (PDF)



This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Teatro Goldoni, Venice
Michel van der Aa, director
Company: Samuel West, actor / Timothy West, actor (film) / Mary Bevan, soprano (film) / Ensemble Modern


Narrator/Geiser, young actor (live)
Geiser, elderly actor (film)
Corinne soprano (film)

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.

Repertoire Note

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 is spoken by the actor on stage, and parts of the narrative are shown in the film projections. The string quartet is 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.



Stay updated on the latest composer news and publications