Life with a UR?-code

Eduard de Boer
Opera in one act to a libretto by Franz K. Custos
For Accordionensemble Opus 2 – Contrabas – Four singers – Keyboard – Percussion

Dit was eens, maar nooit weer!
Dit gebeurt niet nog een keer!

(This has been once, but never again!
This will not happen ever again!)

Lines from the final song from the opera De Methode van Doctor Peck en Professor Veeren


At some time in 2022, when the government measures to combat the ‘life-threatening virus’ were at their strictest, my wife and I went into a few cafés, without the then obligatory mouth masks and QR-codes, as an experiment to see if we would be allowed in. To our surprise, there was indeed a café where we were welcomed with open arms. When I asked the café owner, why she had no problem with our disobedience, she told me that a so-called BOA2 had visited her and summoned her to follow the government orders. But she had answered: ‘I just can’t find it in my heart to refuse people. A café is meant to be a welcoming place for everyone.’ The BOA had been so impressed by this answer that he had simply left, and the cafe had been left in peace since then.

This story is so beautiful in its simplicity, that I suggested it would be the basis for one of the scenes of the new libretto. Indeed it became the final scene, letting the opera-within-the-opera begin and end in a café.

When the news came that the application for a commission by accordion ensemble Alphen Opus 2 had been granted, I decided to also make a version with orchestra, since this will greatly increase the possibilities for performances.

A final remark about the street musician – who is in fact an accomplished accordion player dressed as a beggar – playing outside the opera building before and after the performance of the opera. He is to perform several songs from the opera, if desired complemented by pieces of his own choosing, and thereby the opera-within-the-opera, framed by the Prologue and Epilogue, will in turn be framed by his performing. When the opera goers will hear him play before the opera, they may be surprised to hear him play music that is different from what one would expect. Only when they see him onstage, a little later, will they realize that he is in fact part of the opera. Finally, when they leave the opera building and hear him play outside again, they may recognize the melodies, and some may even recall some of the words sung to the melodies; words like

I do not want to participate
In a system that I do not want to exist,
A system that we should not cooperate with.
Refusing to feed it is my way to resist.
I just can’t find it in my heart
To implement the UR?-code.
If I would do so, from the start
My heart would overflow
With feelings of regret,
That I would not be able to forget.

Eduard de Boer, March 14, 2023


In Early 2020, the outbreak of the well-known ‘pandemic’ caused an enormous wave of panic and fear among the world population. In turn, this fear brought about a number of scenes that cannot be seen as anything else than absurd – at least in retrospect, now that the fear has subsided to some extent. An – admittedly slightly ironic – description of what happens here could go as follows: A highly anti-social woman is endangering the survival of mankind, by floating around in a swimming pool! ‘Fie!’, people shout, close together(!), but at a safe distance from this irresponsible shrew…. But then, Superman arrives! Risking his own life, he drags the mean witch to the poolside, where a policeman is already ready to take her in – also risking his life in the process.

The onlookers are relieved. Whew, that was close! Let’s hope that this threat to humankind was averted in time!

Or what about this one: a lone man is standing at the beach. He doesn’t abide by the lockdown rules and, in doing so, is threatening the survival of mankind. Fortunately, three (!) police officers are on their way to arrest him – completely disregarding the 6 feet requirement, by the way….. And then follows the Dénouement. 2(Cf. the third scene, ‘Jab Regret’, from the opera)

Witnessing absurdities like this one, be it on the internet or in daily life, made composer Eduard de Boer decide to write an opera about Edgar Allan’s short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,1 in which the patients of a lunatic asylum temporarily take over power; an opera for which I had the pleasure to write the libretto. During the process of our collaboration, we both made a habit of collecting stories and videos of similar absurdities. Maybe some of this material might turn out to be usable for a future project.

Even before this had resulted in anything concrete, the renowned Dutch accordion ensemble Alphen Opus 2 expressed interest in our plan, to the extent that they applied for a composition commission for a one-act opera from the Dutch Fund for the Podium Arts (Fonds voor de Podiumkunsten). At this stadium, we had settled on the title Prijkspijt, meaning Jab Regret. This word had been chosen as the Dutch word of the year 2021 – which is of course an absurdity in itself. To our great joy, the application was granted, on the very day that our opera De Methode van Doctor Peck en Professor Veeren was completed! We set to work immediately, and I soon came to the conclusion that the new opera would have not one overall storyline, but several independent ones.

In the meantime however, three months had passed and the absurdities now also included the obligation to have a so-called QR-code, basically to proof that one had taken the prescribed vaccines, in order to be allowed into buildings like concert halls, cafés and restaurants, etc. This had quite an impact on Ed de Boer, since, refusing to let himself be vaccinated, he was refused entrance to several concerts where his music was on the program.

Even more: a planned concert with a number of his chamber music compositions on the program, in which he himself would take part as a pianist, was cancelled immediately after he announced that he did not have a QR-code, even though performing musicians were at the time exempted from the obligation to have one! Sad as this was for the composer, it was in itself a great story, and it gave me the idea to conceive a scenario for an opera within an opera, framed by a Prologue and an Epilogue, in which a composer would be refused to attend the premiere of his own opera, because he didn’t have a so-called UR? (You-Are?)-code.

From this point on, the absurdities connected with the QR/UR?-code gradually became more and influential in the opera concept.

Furthermore, I felt the need to write the new libretto in English – which is my second language – instead of in Dutch, as I had done for the previous opera, since all kinds of surreal things as depicted in the opera, happened all over the world, in those days. Even so, the title Prikspijt remained, since the word itself is tellingly surreal, but in the end, we felt compelled to change the title to Life with a UR?-Code, with an eyewink to Alfred Schnittke’s opera Life with an Idiot. Even so, very tellingly, a scene called Jab Regret is the central scene, containing an aria with the same title. Some of the various stories used in the opera are based on real life occurrences, like of course the Prologue and Epilogue, and also the Third Scene, and the Fourth Scene, which is based on a story directly related to the composer. I leave it him to give an account of this occurrence.

I hope this opera will find its way to the hearts of many opera-goers.

Franz K. Custos, March 14, 2023

Copyright Alphen Opus 2