Tragic comedy in four acts


World premiere

Martijn Padding, P.F. Thomése, De Nationale Opera

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Robbert is a famous television presenter, who is more than sick of the shallow world he moves in. When his mother reminds him of his boyhood dream of a life among the stars, he contacts cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and his dog Laika, who are still floating through space. Robbert decides to join them in the universe and to exchange this earthly existence for eternity. In four widely varying acts, this gripping and challenging production by composer Martijn Padding, librettist P.F. Thomése and director Aernout Mik demonstrates with humour that the world will keep on turning, with or without television.


The Dutch National Opera uses a dynamic pricing system, due to which the ticket price will be higher when tickets will become less available.


The opera Laika is in Dutch, but the translation of the libretto in English will be available at the venue.

I strive for music that is light-hearted and serious.

Martijn Padding

Background information

Martijn Padding wrote to the singers in 2012: ‘Each of the four acts of the opera will be very different. The first and third are ecstatic, and as they take place in the tawdry world of the television studio they bounce every which way. The second act is dark, with a Psycho-like side. The last act becomes transparent, space-like and otherworldly.’ After having produced the first rough sketches, Padding worked with each singer separately, keeping his or her specific vocal ‘idiosyncrasies’ in mind.
Padding and librettist P.F. Thomése poke fun at the superficiality of ratings-obsessed television programmes. The celebrated presenter Robbert is at the end of his tether: everyone knows him, but he no longer truly knows himself. Moreover, he still lives with his domineering mother, who keeps the embalmed body of his father on display in the living room. Since his early youth Robbert has immersed himself in the cosmos, and it is there where he will find liberation.
DNO has engaged the versatile visual artist Aernout Mik as stage director. Laika is his first opera staging (together with Marjoleine Boonstra); additionally he co-designs the decor (with Else de Bruijn) and costumes (with Elisabetta Pian). Robbert is sung by the popular Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans (Papageno in Die Zauberflöte), and his mother by Helena Rasker (Legende, Guillaume Tell). The title role is portrayed by a boy soprano and Gagarin by the bass Dennis Wilgenhof (Legende).

The plot

In a television studio preparations are underway for the umpteenth instalment of a chat show. The TV chef Ricardo is attempting to chat up the make-up artist Grimelda with lewd remarks. However, she only has eyes for Robbert the compere. Trix Dominatrix, the 'queen of the viewing figures', is also smitten by Robbert, who is trying to bolster his confidence. Everyone knows who he is, yet he no longer knows himself. He longingly recalls the time when he still cherished dreams. The show gets underway.

Robbert’s mother also thinks that he is acting the role of someone other than himself and that his behaviour does not reflect his upbringing. In the living room lies a coffin containing the embalmed corpse of Robbert’s father. His mother wants him to kiss the dead man. She misses her boy who was constantly engrossed with the stars in the night sky. In his room Robbert uses a transmitter to seek contact with the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the space dog Laika, who are eternally adrift in space. Gagarin invites Robbert to join them.

Trix Dominatrix and Grimelda bicker over Robbert. The audience ratings have drastically declined. Robbert is totally preoccupied, deviating from his text and ranting and raving as he kicks the audience out of the studio. Then he knocks over the camera and flees the set. Ricardo is already poised to take his place.

Gagarin and Laika come to fetch Robbert. The choir and the entire chat show crew assemble to give him a ceremonious send-off. Gagarin explains that when the countdown is over, time will stand still. All Robbert has to do is to let go. The choir sings of the heroes’ final escape.


Martijn Padding (Amsterdam, 1956) studied composition with Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, piano with Fania Chapiro and musicology at the University of Utrecht. His oeuvre ranges from solo instrumental works to large-scale orchestral compositions and music theatre. His more recent works are less prone to the angular construction and pithy harmonic structure of his earlier pieces, and although Padding’s music often still exhibits a technical-musical aspect, a theatrical element is increasingly evident.
Padding’s compositional aesthetic precludes any hierarchical relationship amongst, for instance, modernistic elements, influences from popular culture and historical-based doctrines.
Padding’s works are performed by prominent ensembles, soloists and orchestras in the Netherlands and abroad. He writes his music in close colllaboration with musicians and ensembles, including Gerard Bouwhuis, Asko|Schönberg, MAE ensemble, NAP, LOOS and the Veenfabriek.
In 2009, Padding was selected for the International Rostrum of Composers for First Harmonium Concerto. For a performance of the complete series of Beethoven's nine symphonies with Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna at the Holland Festival in 2010, Padding wrote a new overture, Glimpse, with the same orchestration as Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus. In 2011 Padding won an Edison Klassiek Award for his CD Three Concerti. In March 2012 his composition In Memoriam Hector Berlioz premiered with Het Gelders Orkest, where he had been composer in residence during one season. In the autumn of 2012, three of Padding's compositions premiered: Things that fall apart, Gesprek (a duo composition with Louis Andriessen) and HOP. From 2012 Padding has been working on his new opera Laika, which will premiere in June 2014 at the Holland Festival. As well as working as a composer, Martijn Padding is also Head of the composition faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague.

The Dutch writer P.F. Thomése (1958) studied history at the University of Amsterdam, then worked for a while as an editor and reporter at daily newspaper the Eindhovens Dagblad. He currently lives in Haarlem.
Thomése's first novel, Zuidland, promptly won him the prestigious AKO Prize for Literature. Since, he has written many critically acclaimed novels, stories, essays and novellas. His international breakthrough came with Schaduwkind (2003), which was published in 20 countries. Schaduwkind stayed in the Dutch top ten book list for weeks. It was nominated for the NS Publieksprijs and longlisted for the Libris Prize.
Thomése caused a stir with his novel Vladiwostok!, which was nominated for the AKO Prize for Literature and the Gouden Uil. His book Nergensman. Autobiografieën was nominated for the Gouden Uil Prize for Literature in 2009. In 2010 the critically acclaimed De weldoener was published, followed in the summer of 2011 by Grillroom Jeruzalem.

Aernout Mik studied at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen and at the alternative artists' institute de Ateliers in Amsterdam. His first solo exhibition was at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and was entitled Primal gestures, minor roles (2000). He received the Sandberg Prize for his videos Lick and Fluff and the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Art. His work Organic Escalator was acquired by the art collection Fondation Pinault and was shown at the exhibition Passage du Temps in Lille. Other works of Mik include Middlemen, Park, Osmosis and Excess, Raw Footage, Schoolyard and Shifting Sitting. His exhibitions included a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2009), Communitas at Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris (2011), The Art of Deceleration in Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (2011-2012) and a retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2013).

Dutch National Opera is renowned for its diverse programming of both classical and modern operas and for the consistently high standard of its performances. Innovative productions, works especially composed for Dutch National Opera and a fresh approach to mainstream repertoire give renewed impetus to this superb art form and ensure its place in the future. With Pierre Audi initially as artistic director and now, following the fusion, as director of Dutch National Opera, the company has become a household name in the international opera world and every new production garners a high degree of interest. In 2013 DNO won the international Opera Award for the best production of the year.
The company was founded shortly after the Second World War as a repertory company and later developed into a stagione company. This means that Dutch National Opera does not have a permanent ensemble and that one opera is staged per month on average. Guest soloists and separate artistic teams are engaged per production. Dutch National Opera does have its own choir, the Chorus of Dutch National Opera, comprising 56 members. The choir is considered to be one of the best in Europe and was nominated for the best choir performance of the year [International Opera Award] in 2013. For the majority of the productions DNO collaborates with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra|Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. The chief conductor is Marc Albrecht.
Most DNO productions take place in the Dutch National Opera & Ballet; however, there are also performances in the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg, Royal Theatre Carré, the Westergasfabriek and Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ. The degree of international interest in DNO’s opera productions has led to an increasing number of requests to stage DNO productions at leading opera houses and festivals abroad. Co-productions are regularly realised with celebrated companies such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra national in Paris and the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Dutch National Opera had an average audience attendance of 90% capacity in 2013.


Martijn Padding
P.F. Thomése
musical direction
Etienne Siebens
Aernout Mik
Thomas Oliemans (Robbert)
Claron McFadden (Trix Dominatrix)
Marcel Beekman (Ricardo)
Helena Rasker (Mother)
Marieke Steenhoek (Grimelda)
Dennis Wilgenhof (Joeri Gagarin)
Mattijs van de Woerd (Leporello)
Boy soprano (Laika)
Dutch National Opera
Dutch National Opera, Holland Festival
commissioned by
Dutch National Opera
with support by
Fonds Podiumkunsten, Mondriaan Fonds
this production has been made possible with support by
Johannes Vermeer Prijs 2009 Pierre Audi

This performance was made possible with support by