Martijn Padding – Laika

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  • Martijn Padding (Holland Festival 2014)
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  • Laika, the first dog in space
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Composer: Martijn Padding
Libretto: P. F. Thomése

De Nederlandse Opera
World Premiere

Robbert...... Thomas Oliemans
Trix Dominatrix.... Claron McFadden
Ricardo............ Marcel Beekman
Mother..... Helena Rasker
Grimelda......... Marieke Steenhoek
Juri Gagarin......... Dennis Wilgenhof
Leporello....... Mattijs van de Woerd
Laika........... Boy soprano

Conductor...............Etienne Siebens
Director................Aernout Mik
Production...........De Nationale Opera, Holland Festival

Dates    Tue 3, Thu 5, Fri 6, Sat 7, Sun 8*, Sun 8** June 2014
Starting time    8 pm, *1.30 pm, **7 pm
Venue: Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, Rabozaal

Ticket price: € 60 (last minute students € 15)
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, including one interval;
After the interval the audience is invited to change seats
Language: Dutch with Dutch and English surtitles
Introduction: 7.15 pm, Sun 8.6 12.45 pm and 6.15 pm



The opera Laika iwas the result of a collaboration between composer Martijn Padding, Dutch author P.F. Thomése and the artist Aernout Mik. Pierre Audi, artistic director of the Holland Festival and The Dutch National Opera brought the three together, aiming for a performance excecuted by the AskoSchönberg ensemble..

The libretto revolves around talkshowhost Robbert who is haunted by viewers statistics Queen Trix Dominatrix, while he wonders about his dreams of ere. Robbert seeks contact eith the kosmonaut Gagarin en space dog Laika, who are floating in the universe. After another discouraging meeting with Dominatrix, he decides to join them. The crew waves him off,  a choir rejoices in his escape. The score includes a 'viewers statistics aria',' a blink eye to the famous catalogue aria in Mozart's Don Giovanni (and a recurring theme in Dutch opera, since it was first introduced in modern Dutch opera in the 1969 opera Reconstructie, by the likes of Louis Andriessen, Reinbert de Leeuw, Jan van Vlijmen, Micha Mengelberg and Peter Schat. Another example is the 'decomposition of Don Giovanni by Floris Bergeijk into Donna Giovanna (2011, Opera Spanga).


'I strive for music that is light-hearted and serious.' (Martijn Padding, 2014)

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.

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  • Martijn Padding, set designs for 'Laika' (Holland Festival 2014)

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


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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.


LaikaGagarainLPTrix 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.

Dogs in Space

LaikaSpaceAffiche1Perhaps surprisingly, Paddigs Laika is not the first opera about the first dog to woof in spce. In the Spring of 2013, Russell Hepplewhite's children's opera Laika the Spacedog toured the UK, after a preview for BBC Stargazing Live at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on 10th January. It opened with a sell-out week of performances at the Science Museum in London from the 22nd January. Written for children and family audiences, it is designed for Key Stage 2 in primary schools, and incorporates many areas of the curriculum, including science, history and literacy as well as music.