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City opera On the road

What, then, does history tell us, if he who knows what he suffered has remained in it?


Sunday 1 May 2016 saw the performance of the city opera Onderweg, a confrontation between composed music and original music by refugees. Bob Zimmerman wrote the music for Onderweg based on a libretto by Ruben van Gogh and poems by Baban Kirkuki. This libretto was inspired by Ongekend Bijzonder, an oral history project with refugees. Zimmerman’s music exploits the contrasts with music from Iran, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Syria, which has been given a dramatic place within the opera’s framework. Onderweg could be seen on the Cultural Sunday Destination reached on 1 May 2016 at three publicly accessible locations in the centre of Utrecht.

City poets Ruben van Gogh and Baban Kirkuki wrote the libretto of On the road, based on the interviews of Ongekend Bijzonder.

In total, the vocal and instrumental cast of the opera consisted of eighty musicians and singers from various backgrounds under the musical direction of Jurriaan Grootes. The main roles were played by baritone Arash Roozbehi, mezzo-soprano Nienke Nillesen and soprano Tamar Niamut. The direction of Onderweg was in the hands of Geert van Boxtel and Alejandra Peña.


The city opera Onderweg (On the road) follows two refugees in their search for a new identity and a new existence. They turn up at the Utrecht City Hall, the official face of the city. In the Utrecht Archives, they search for insight, knowledge and understanding. In TivoliVredenburg a confrontation with the people of Utrecht takes place: what does it mean to be Dutch?



Ted Alkemade recorded the creation of the opera in images, interviews and opera fragments.