Louis Andriessen’s magical journey through space and time

Theatre of the World

Louis Andriessen, De Nationale Opera

Theatre of the World is a magical journey through space and time. Director Pierre Audi joins forces with the American video artists the Quay Brothers to stage Louis Andriessen’s long awaited new opera. They will turn the Royal Theatre Carré into the breathtaking dreamworld of Athanasius Kircher, the last true Renaissance man in history. After a life of scientific research, Kircher shows us his findings in his ‘theatre of the world’. Reinbert de Leeuw conducts the ensemble Asko|Schönberg, Leigh Melrose sings the lead part and Cristina Zavalloni is his lover. The cast also includes Dutch rising star Nora Fischer. This is an unmissable scenic world premiere which is sure to make global headlines.

Background information

'Andriessen's score is a holiday of inventiveness and the distillation of a lifetime's creativity.' (The Sunday Times on La Commedia, 2008)



Louis Andriessen, together with librettist Helmut Krausser, sketches the story of a colourful character in his new opera Theatre of the World, in which Reinbert de Leeuw also returns to Dutch National Opera with his ensemble Asko|Schönberg. The production is designed by the brothers Quay and directed by Pierre Audi. Theatre of the World has all the ingredients of a very special opera, that will have its scenic world premiere at the Holland Festival.


Theatre of the World is inspired by the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), who was seen as the last Renaissance man; a scholar who was learned on all fronts. Kircher was an Egyptologist, a Sinologist, a mathematician, a physicist, a volcanologist, a music theoretician and a composer, among other things. One of the tasks of the Jesuits was to seek God’s presence in everything. The results were then shown visually in a ‘theatre of the world’. Kircher travels through time and space, accompanied by a twelve-year-old boy. Is the boy his pupil, himself at a young age or the devil? He crosses the river of death, sees the tower of Babel and ends up in China. The journey is supposed to help him remember everything he has ever experienced. If Kircher can remain who he is, will that be in heaven or in hell? The old, weak man wants to make his peace with God. At his graveside, his loved one Juana praises the splendour of the world.


The composer Louis Andriessen has built up a very impressive career, both in the Netherlands and abroad. His productions for Dutch National Opera have included Reconstructie (1969), De Materie (1989), ROSA, a Horse Drama (1994), Writing to Vermeer (1999) and La Commedia (2008). With some of them premiering at the Holland Festival. The libretto for Theatre of the World is by Helmut Krausser: writer, poet and playwright. He is internationally renowned as one of the best authors of the young German generation. His breakthrough came with his novel Melodien oder Nachträge zum quecksilbernen Zeitalter.


The famous ensemble Asko|Schönberg, that specialises in contemporary classical music, is conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, who is making his return to Dutch National Opera, where he has conducted several Andriessen operas in the past. One of the main roles in Theatre of the World is sung by Cristina Zavalloni, the current ‘muse’ of Louis Andriessen, who said about her: 'I heard her for the first time in The Hague [...] and nearly fell off my chair'.


This spectacular production is designed by the brothers Quay. The identical twins are building up a mysterious and dark oeuvre of distinctive animation films, for which they invent and create everything themselves. A big exhibition of their work was held in EYE in 2014.



Louis Andriessen (Utrecht, 1939) studied piano, music theory and composition with, amongst others, Kees van Baaren at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague and later in Milan with Luciano Berio. In 1975, Andriessen returned to his alma mater in The Hague to teach there himself.


In his early years, Andriessen's major influences were Berio and Cage, but during the course of the 1960's he developed ideas on style and material which were closer to Stravinsky and the Group des Six. From the 1970's American minimal music started to influence his music as well. In 1969, Andriessen, together with De Leeuw, Mengelberg, Schat, Van Vlijmen, Hugo Claus and Harry Mulisch, staged the controversial opera Reconstructie, a sharp indictment of capitalism and the Vietnam War. A year later, he was involved in the Notenkrakersactie, which was a protest by a group of young Dutch composers against the conservative music policy of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Since, Andriessen's stance towards the musical establishment has become increasingly critical and politics have become an integral part of his work. In the 1970's he formed Hoketus and De Volharding, two ensembles who tried to reach a new audience with their politically tinged music and pioneered the Netherlands' rich ensemble culture. With major works such as De Staat (1976), Mausoleum (1979) and De Materie (1989), Andriessen gained international acclaim and recognition as the founder and leader of the 'New Hague School'. In 2013, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performed the world premiere of Mysteriën. In 1994, Andriessen worked with filmmaker and writer Peter Greenaway for the first time on the music theatre production Rosa, a Horse Drama. In the late 1990's they renewed their collaboration on Writing to Vermeer. Since 1969, Andriessen's music has been performed regularly at the Holland Festival. In 2008, his film opera La Commedia premiered at the festival.


The American identical twin brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay (1946), better known as the Quay Brothers, studied illustration (Timothy) and film (Stephen) at the Philadelphia College of Art. The Quay Brothers' oeuvre is made up of stop-motion animation, graphic design and stage design. Their work has been influenced by a variety of Middle- and East-European writers from the beginning of the twentieth century. Their best known film, Street of Crocodiles, was based on the eponymous novella by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz. The works of Franz Kafka and Robert Wals were also an important source of inspiration to the brothers, as well as the Polish animator Walerian Borowczyk and the Russian puppeteer and filmmaker Wladyslaw Starewicz. The Quay Brothers' work is characterised by their mysterious atmosphere, the absence of spoken words and the use of disassembled dolls, marionettes and all sorts of used objects and other organic and inorganic materials. As well as animation films, the brothers have also created set designs for opera and music theatre, including for Richard Jones' staging of Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges and Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa. They have also made a short film, Absentia, commissioned by the BBC to accompany Karlheinz Stockhausen's composition Zwei Paare (Two Couples). In 2012, MoMA in New York organised a retrospective of the Brothers Quay's work, called Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets. In 2013 and 2014 EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam also dedicated a large exhibition to the brothers' work.


Asko|Schönberg, the leading ensemble for new music from Amsterdam, performs music from the 20th and 21st century. Besides performing music by great, established names such as Andriessen, Gubaidulina, Kagel, Kurtág, Ligeti, Rihm and Stockhausen, it also champions younger composers such as Van der Aa, Padding, Widmann and Zuidam, as well as the newest generation of composers. However the founders of 20th-century music are also amply represented: from Weill to Schönberg and from Stravinsky to Messiaen. The ensemble aims at showing the the versatlity of contemporary music by working together with opera, theatre and dance.

This diverse music-making takes place in Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ and the Concertgebouw both in Amsterdam, during guest appearances in the Holland Festival and Dutch National Opera, and in a variety of concert halls throughout the Netherlands and abroad. Asko|Schönberg regularly appears in festivals in Cologne, Kraków, Paris and elsewhere. Recently the ensemble gave performances in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Jakarta (Indonesia). Younger audiences are also catered for: educative projects for seven-year-olds, composition projects for secondary school students and collaborations with the composition departments of conservatoires. 
Besides the conductor Reinbert de Leeuw and permanent guest conductor Etienne Siebensbourne, Asko|Schönberg regularly works with guest conductors such as Oliver Knussen, Clark Rundell and Bas Wiegers. Performances involve a single-minded group of versatile musicians and soloists from the Netherlands and abroad. Asko|Schönberg is ensemble in residence of Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ.


Dutch National Opera (DNO) 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.



Louis Andriessen
Helmut Krausser
musical direction
Reinbert de Leeuw
Pierre Audi
decor and video
Quay Brothers
Florence von Gerkan
Jean Kalman
Klaus Bertisch
Leigh Melrose, Athanasius Kircher,
Lindsay Kesselman, a boy,
Marcel Beekman, Pope Innozenzo XI,
Cristina Zavalloni, Sor Juana Ínes de la Cruz,
Mattijs van de Woerd, the cornifex,
Nora Fischer, Martijn Cornet, a couple of secret lovers (He and She), ,
Steven Van Watermeulen, Janssonius ,
Jeroen de Vaal, Pascal Pittie, Michael Wilmering, Tomeu Bibiloni, Die Nachwelt (in person van Voltaire, Descartes, Goethe en Leibnitz),
Steven Van Watermeulen, Raffaele Fabretti,
Charlotte Houberg, Sophie Fetokaki, Ingeborg Bröcheler – talent, Three witches
with support by
Stichting Ammodo
De Nationale Opera, Holland Festival

This performance was made possible with support by