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Music Text

Libretto by David Mitchell (E)


2S, Bar (M, Bar on film);
0.0.1.bcl.0-; soundtrack(4channels); film(2D,3D);
may be produced either in a fully staged or in a semi-staged version

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes / Bote & Bock

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


World Premiere
Barbican Theatre, London
Michel van der Aa, director
Conductor: André de Ridder
Company: English National Opera



What connects the disappearances of a software engineer and a glamorous young socialite, with a neurotic film-maker of dubious credentials and a gullible patroness of the arts? What is the unfolding crime and who is the criminal? Are their shared dreams of a walled garden between life and death – a place where guilt and grief cannot enter – just dreams, or might such a garden be real? And if so, what is the true price of entry?

Sunken Garden is an occult-mystery film-opera dealing in bright hoax and dark truth, in patronage and manipulation, in the virtual and the bodily, in the isolation of the broadband age, in the primal impulse to cheat mortality at any cost.

Press Quotes

"...a remarkable fusion of sound and visuals, complete with stunning 3D imagery. Described as a "film opera", the Sunken Garden certainly stretches the boundaries of the genre."
Evening Standard

"Van der Aa has directed the show as well as the often sumptious-looking film sequences. As always he's done it with immense technical skill, and both his orchestral writing and the electronic soundtrack are strikingly effective."
The Guardian

"A fantastical tale to set the ears and eyes popping– A provocative combination of live performance and cinema, fused in subtle and arresting ways. The fusion worked here because of the rigor with which Mr. van der Aa assembled all of its parts; the brilliance demonstrated by dozens of collaborators and technical colleagues; and the excellence the singers and actors brought to their tasks, onstage and on screen ... Mr. van der Aa links the musical and cinematic components of Sunken Garden deftly and intricately. Subtle hints advancing the mysterious plot are quietly strewn throughout the filmed sequences. Elements in the score link up precisely with details on screen ... Mr. Mitchell’s chatty dialogue unspools naturally, flowing in lyrical strands over bruised harmonies, fidgeting rhythms and patches of haunted stasis, played by a 26-piece orchestra augmented with subtle electronic effects. A filmed scene depicting Amber in a nightclub is set to convincingly kinetic dance music ... Unquestionably a bold, rewarding venture that demands consideration."
New York Times

"Sunken Garden is altogether more ambitious, and successfully achieves van der Aa’s dreams of linking different art forms to create a Gesamtkunstwerk for the age of technology. It will divide opinion, however, as anything truly experimental usually does. Much will be made of its technological inventiveness, but don’t be distracted. At heart, Sunken Garden is a true opera in the deepest sense. It’s about people and how they communicate, or don’t communicate as the case may be ... The 3D effects aren’t a gimmick but an intelligent theatrical commentary."
Opera Today





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