Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’

Under the guidance of Gert Dumbar en Studio Van ’t Hullenaar & Vis, students of the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) and the Royal Conservatoire have collaborated in a unique project reinventing the idea of the opera.

Opera is a format that strongly magnifies situations that you can recognise from reality and it is exactly with this aspect of the magnifying glass that students have looked at and translated this dramatic concept A Paradise Built in Hell - after the book of social critic Rebecca Solnit, who describes the purposeful joy that fills human beings in the face of disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and even a terrorist attack:

“These are clearly not events to be wished for, yet they bring out the best in us and provide common purpose. Everyday concerns and societal structures vanish. A strange kind of liberation fills the air. People rise to the occasion. Social alienation seems to vanish. Our response to disaster gives us nothing less than “a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become... The recovery of this purpose and closeness without crisis or pressure is the great contemporary task of being human.”

A Paradise Built in Hell challenges the traditional concept of the dramatic opera format as we know it today. It opens up the opportunity for students to experiments with alternative narrative structures, unconventional produced music (and musicians) and suggests a scenography that mimics ‘the real’ while it no longer differs from your couch-perspective; a videogame. It plays with interactive transmissions and invites you to a (virtual)-reality-walk through... Paradise? Hell?

The project has been initiated by the Graphic Design department of the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK) in the context of the KABK IST Research Lab SOUNDSCAPE 2018/2019.

A Paradise built in Hell

“The Act is inspired by the hurricane Irma - an unstoppable force, truly like Hell on Earth, creating havoc and chaos. In the midst of it all, the Act explores the possibility of a paradise, a calmness inside the storm, known as the eye of the hurricane.”

Music: ‘Hurricane Irma’ by Mari Mako

Scenography: Mila Baumann, Miriam Asghdom, Ruta Balzekaite

Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ act 1
Scene from Act 1 Irma, photo Brecht Hoffmann

“We have created a manic world nauseous with the pursuit of material wealth. Many also bear their cross of imagined deprivation, while their fellow human beings remain paralysed by real poverty and suffering. Based on the Pakistan Heatwaves of 2017, here the idea of the Sun, is seen as a symbol of God, the life giver to all. The sun’s energy gives pleasure to millions be it on beaches or even going so far as artificially recreating the sun because we crave him so much. But every paradise will turn into a hell if it lasts too long. The excess of heat is something inescapable, we melt in the thick sweetness of our sensual excess, and our shameless opulence, while our discontent souls suffocate in the arid wasteland of spiritual deprivation.”

Music: ‘Industrial Heat’ by Juan Luis Montoro Santos

Scenography: Marlot Meyer, Ines Delgado Rusli, Kelsey Corby

Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ act 2
Scene from Act 2 Excess, photo Brecht Hoffmann
Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ act 2
Scene from Act 2 Excess, photo Brecht Hoffmann

“How casually do we deal with someone else’s life story? What kind of stories are we willing to hear? What kind of stories move us? Why is it that the same audiences that are driven to tears by fictional blockbusters, remain affectless in the face of actual human suffering? Based on China’s floods and landslides, this idea of overflowing of data, information and stories of either joy or horror simply become distorted and lost to the point where suffering of others becomes so distanced from our personal experiences it does not even effect us.”

Music: ‘Shrine’ by Germán Medina Calle

Scenography: Marlot Meyer, Ines Delgado Rusli, Kelsey Corby

Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ act 3
Scene from Act 3 Digital Disaster, photo Brecht Hoffmann

“An act that depicts humanity’s egocentrism as EGO and mother Earth as ECO. The confrontation of these two characters represent the current problems that humans partake in climate change, due to the egocentric and capitalistic culture that we have created.
A mountain of limbs, Ego’s brothers and sisters. Who will lose? Who will win? Will any of them survive, or are they going down together? Will any of us survive, or are we going down together? Never forget that we ourselves are also nature.”

Music: ‘Nuugaatsiaq’ by Cindy Giron

Named after the landslide in Greenland that resulted into a tsunami in 2017.

Scenography: Maarten Keus, Pamela Varela, Vladimir Vidanovski, Ilya Doreanu

Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ act 3
Scene from Act 4 EGO vs. EC(H)O, photo Brecht Hoffmann
Mixed media opera ‘A Paradise built in Hell’ act 4
Scene from Act 4 EGO vs. EC(H)O, photo Brecht Hoffmann

Participating students Royal Academy of Art (KABK):

Mila Baumann, Miriam Asghdom, Marlot Meyer, Ines Delgado Rusli, Ruta Balzekaite, Kelsey Corby, Maarten Keus, Pamela Varela, Ilya Doreanu and Vladimir Vidanovski

Participating students Royal Conservatoire (KONCON):

Mari Mako, Cindy Giron, Juan Luis Montoro Santos and Germán Medina Calle

Performers: Mher Brutyan, Meghan Dobbelsteijn Bisschops
Concept: Studio Van ’t Hullenaar & Vis
Guidance: Martijn Padding (KONCON), Gert Dumbar (KABK), Studio Van ’t Hullenaar & Vis
Director: Koen van Etten
Producer Ensemble Klang: Ellen Geertse
Producer KABK: Brecht Hoffmann

Thanks to
The Municipality of The Hague, Korzo Theatre, Erik van Houten, Frans ten Bosch, Sabio, Shiro, Arthur, Lola, Luka, Pickles, Sabin en Ronald, Berk Duygun, Pim Kerssemakers, Gitte en Wim, Leonard Spencer, Jari, Fe, Noah, Julia, Joelle, Robbert

The mixed media opera project entitled A Paradise Built in Hell was performed live by the internationally renowned Ensemble Klang at the Korzo Theater on the 2nd of April, during the Spring Festival The Hague.

Project details


A collaboration between the Royal Academy of Art (KABK), The Royal Conservatoire (KONCON) and Ensemble Klang.
Supported by the Municipality of The Hague.


Music pieces & scenography