African-AmericanBrazilian Operacontemporary operaIndigenous musicNew Music

Opera of Hope

Photo: Athena Azevedo: André Kaires como Flagelante em "O Sétimo Selo". Ilhabela, SP. 2018.

Photo: Athena Azevedo: André Kaires como Flagelante em “O Sétimo Selo”. Ilhabela, SP. 2018.

by: João MacDowell

Imagination is the source of freedom.

Opera of Hope or Opera of the Oppressed is a practice with strategies to produce operatic events that engage the community, serve as a secular ritual of transformation, and help reframe historical conflicts of oppression.

This practice derives from the educational philosophy expressed in the books: “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Pedagogy of Hope” by Paulo Freire. Our practice is heir to a long tradition of theater as a form of liberation and a direct consequence of the theaters of Augusto Boal, Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud.

Opera of Hope focuses on the process, not on the results.

Opera of Hope brings the heritage of Antropofagia, Tropicalismo, and Magical Realism. And further, beyond content that expresses the multicultural perspectives of the colonized, approaching the practice of production as a laboratory for new talent.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.

For a better life together, we must reframe memories of oppression in our bodies. These will remain, even if we arrive at an equal-opportunity society. We need to sing it together to overcome it. We are far from an egalitarian society, hence the need to reinforce the work of transformation through music and drama.We work on updating the language and expanding the reach of themes of human relevance, trusting in the liberating power of imagination and the magical power of the human voice.

Nelson Ebo - as Anthonius Block - The Seventh Seal 2016 Workshop. Photo by Athena Azevedo
Nelson Ebo – as Anthonius Block – The Seventh Seal 2016 Workshop. Photo by Athena Azevedo

We need to review the canon with fresh eyes.

Objective criteria are required to determine whether a work supports the needs of our time. We work to find new narratives about issues relevant to the community.

The practice should include opportunities for intercultural dialogue. The scores should engage artists with different backgrounds to encourage diverse experiences working side by side, involving the local community to share musical and cultural knowledge.

Opera of Hope addresses the opera industry from a cultural and commercial perspective. A centuries-old ritual that engages the community and can provide an economic model that places the art as a vital force in the community. We aim for low-cost productions, full houses, targeted marketing, and touring. We are working towards a financially sustainable model.

Some criteria:

• Give preference to works by living or recent composers. Encourage the development of new scores and keep the practice vibrant.

• Research life issues directly in the community and commission new works with community support.

Necessity is the mother of invention: encouraging works by artists from underrepresented cultures. Train artists from non-traditional backgrounds in organizing and expressing their sensibilities in the grand opera environment. (Focus on notation and project management skills.) In situations where trained composers are lacking, works from the standard repertoire may fit into the proposed practice: “West Side Story: by Bernstein and the “Threepenny Opera” by Wiel & Brecht, for example.

• The score should engage artists from diverse backgrounds, encouraging intercultural dialogue. The production plan should involve seasoned performers, talented newcomers, and community misfits, fostering a collaborative environment characteristic of opera at its best.
Engage in seminars and open conversations on community issues related to collaborative work. Invite the community to conversations and seminars. Listen to community input. Translate into the language of professionals and back. Share knowledge about techniques. Discuss guidance for young talent.

• Works such as “Tamanduá” and “The Seventh Seal” incorporate these ideas into the production process. In Tamanduá, there is space for a community choir featured as a soloist in the opera. The story allows for a discussion of immigration and multicultural environments. In “The Seventh Seal,” we had a chorus of the helpless with the screams of flagellants. The idea is to take advantage of the experience of bringing together a group of volunteers and passionate actors who find meaning in life in the artistic production, side by side with professionals who have already become anesthetized in the practice of their craft. It is the possibility of a transforming experience.

We are all Americans. A massive corpus of Latin American art finds hope amid dire circumstances. We have a history of overcoming challenges to find the sublime in the face of oppression. A bright light of hope shines through Magical Realism, Tropicalism, and Anthropophagy. We can open a window to new narratives that sow positive changes about the traumas of oppression. The opera house has the power to affect the entire culture. Due attention to Latin America is essential. We need representation in the art. Our perspective can have profound consequences in the opera house by widening the scope of the multicultural environment. We have a tradition of strategies to incorporate cultural aspects of conflicted populations. The Latin American cultural perspective needs a chance to reverberate in the big halls. The magical power of human voices can change how we vibrate as a culture, freeing the oppressed and the oppressor from their dehumanized condition.

• This approach produces cultural impact and provides a sustainable economic model. The connection between the audience and performance generates a lasting bond of social behavior. Thus, we combine community dialogue and educational outreach with practical challenges for promoting and sustaining the art. We create new jobs through the sale of lifestyle products. We increase the chances of social impact by creating a young audience that will remain loyal for years to come.

• We are creating opera community events where works that discuss new narratives for diversity celebrate the power of the voice of our time. While we aim at large-scale operatic events, chamber works are encouraged. They can be seeds for larger productions, training of ensemble teams, and profound displays of dramatic intensity or virtuosity. The power of music and the magic of voices create a new way of perceiving culture, reverberating beyond the concert halls.

• When the Italians invented opera in 17th-century Florence, they tried to recreate Greek theater, but Greek theater came from much older initiation rituals, where music, drama, magic, and medicine were one. We seek a contemporary practice that connects us with the transforming essence of these rites. Opera connects as a secular ritual that springs from the polytheistic religious life of antiquity. A sacred ritual can fossilize and become harmful. Society has a chance to renew the ceremony with new scores and new melodies. The sound of the human voice can shape the collective unconscious and transform our certainties.

Opera of Hope implies a multicultural aesthetic and a technique encompassing all forms of expression.

The tradition of popular musical dramas, such as Bumba Meu Boi in Brazil, and street celebrations with a theme and a plot, such as Carnival, all bring a liberating element, contrasting poverty with the party’s power. This contribution is precious to the opera hall. Our practice brings an element of information exchange.

To a large extent, traditional opera has cloistered itself into a corner, perceived by the uninitiated as empty, futile entertainment for wealthy people. In our art, knowledge (of work practices and specific musical writing) constitutes a barrier limiting access to artists who have not gone through elite schools. Our practice aims to break this barrier by directly occupying the opera houses with aspiring artists.

For Composers: I am editing the book “Polyharmony and Consonance – an architectural approach to large-scale composition.” The technique should couple with a philosophy of spectacle. We must think about the ethics of the opera house.

Brasília, fevereiro de 2023.

A alegria é a prova dos nove. ” Oswaldo de Andrade – Manifesto Antropofágico (São Paulo, 1928)