The Book of Disquiet    


The Book of Disquiet
Music theatre for actor, ensemble and video projections
Libretto: Fernando Pessoa
Composition, film & stage direction: Michel van der Aa    (link)
Actor: Klaus Maria Brandauer
Conductor: Dennis Russell Davies (t.b.c.)
Duration: 80–90 minutes (without interval)
Lead producer & commissioner:  LINZ09 European Cultural Capital
with the Bruckner Orchester Linz
(World premiere)
Co-producer & commissioner: ZaterdagMatinee, Amsterdam Concertgebouw
with ensemble musikFabrik (Netherlands premiere)

 

Project synopsis
Fernando Pessoa was many authors in one. He attributed his prolific writings to a wide range of alternative selves, each of which had a distinct biography, ideology, and horoscope.


When he died in 1935, Pessoa left behind a trunk filled with unfinished and unpublished writings, among which were the remarkable pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet. This astonishing collection is the autobiography of alternative self Bernando Soares, whose personality Pessoa described as not different from his own, rather a simple mutilation of it.


For Soares, cataloguing his shifts of mood, putting down dream vignettes, studying his own psychological states, relating autobiographical anecdotes, pushes him closer to the ever-elusive nature of the self.


This music theatre work features the most essential entries of The Book of Disquiet. We follow the protagonist (Klaus Maria Brandauer) on stage and in the video projections and witness a haunting mosaic of dreams, psychological notations, autobiographical vignettes, and unsparing introspection.


In seamlessly integrating music, staging and video images Michel van der Aa continues the path taken with his acclaimed operas One and After Life. The actions of the protagonist on stage are interwoven with film projections and the spoken words set to music. Alter egos created in the video projections supplement and extend the protagonist on stage, and a moving portrait rises of a man coming to terms with his own identity.
 

 

 
Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa (Lisbon, 1888) began writing in English at a young age as Alexander Search and Charles Robert Anon. Later in life he wrote under the names Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alavaro De Campos. These are not simple pseudonyms, but, to use Pessoa’s own term, heteronyms, for they are imaginary poets who write real poems. What’s remarkable is that each one is distinct, having his own style, biography, and ideology. In addition, these personalities comment on and critique each other’s work. In any other context this would reveal the mind of a madman, but the heteronyms allowed Pessoa to explore the „other,“ in fact, many others. He was a writer, who, though always sitting alone at his desk, was constantly travelling in his mind, inventing and reinventing himself, exploring consciousness, and the familiar questions it breeds: What is the self? And what’s to be done with it?


The idea of the self is at the forefront of all of Pessoa’s work, particularly The Book of Disquiet, his major prose piece. Tucked away in a trunk for more than fifty years after Pessoa’s death, it was finally discovered and published in 1982. The book takes the form of a diary, written in extended fragments. Its author is Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper. Pessoa called Soares a „semi-heteronym“ because his personality isn’t so radically different from Pessoa’s own. Together they speak of Lisbon, literature, monotony, dreams, commercialism, and much more, but in the final analysis, the minutiae of life is made heartbreakingly beautiful.


Dubbed „A Factless Autobiography,“ the book does not suffer from its lack of names, dates, and times, nor its lack of physical grounding. A sense of place emanates from the text. Soares loves Lisbon, but the city is not described in social-realistic terms. Rather, it’s described as an ethereal place, as seen through the eyes of a poet. Throughout, Pessoa is aware of the price he pays for his heteronomity. ‘To create, I’ve destroyed myself... I’m the empty stage where various actors act out various plays.’ ‘Anything, even tedium’, a finely ironic reservation, rather than ‘this bluish, forlorn indefiniteness of everything!’ Is there any city which cultivates sadness more lovingly than does Lisbon? Even the stars only ‘feign light’.


Yet there are also epiphanies and passages of deep humour. In the ‘forests of estrangements’, Pessoa comes upon resplendent Oriental cities. Women are a chosen source of dreams but ‘Don’t ever touch them’. There are snapshots of clerical routine, of the vacant business of bureaucracy. The sense of the comedy of the inanimate is acute: ‘Over the pyjamas of my abandoned sleep...’ The juxtapositions have a startling resonance: ‘I’m suffering from a headache and the universe.’ A sort of critical, selfmocking surrealism surfaces: ‘To have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation.’ Or that fragment of a sentence which may come close to encapsulating Pessoa’s unique reckoning: ‘... intelligence, an errant fiction of the surface’.