Opera/Libretto Symposium - Barcelona, 26-27th June 2011 - Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
Dr. Pieter Verstraete Post-Migrant Community Opera?
Today I would like to speak about a new research, which is about what I call “post-migrant” opera. Perhaps it would better be called multicultural or community opera. The latter term has earned some currency in the Netherlands in recent years through such festivals as Yo! Opera. The term “post-migrant” has also a particular history and function in Germany, particularly in the Naunynkiez in Neukölln. However, I am convinced that the aspect of post-migration is also relevant for these music theatre performances, because they indirectly seek to contribute to an increased representation and presence of people with a migration background in the art scene, as well as to an awareness of alternative perspectives on Europe’s migration history of the past 50 years. Similar initiatives can be seen in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, but also to an extent in Belgium, and maybe you know of similar projects elsewhere. This art form includes collaboration with people in post-migrant communities as well as artists with a migration background in the artistic process. Some of these initiatives have developed from ‘migrant theatre’; and a lot differs, artistically, organizationally and dramaturgically, when directors or artists with no migration background initiate such projects. I will explain this later. I will be mainly speaking about two projects today. But I first wanted to start with a project from the 90’s, to show a tentative prehistory that paved the way for this art form and also problematizes it. I don’t know if you know a little bit about the Belgian theatre scene but one of the largest music theatre companies today is called LOD; it used to be ‘Muziek LOD’, with L.O.D. referring to ‘Lunch on Thursday’ but they have forgotten about that now, [audience laughter]. It is one of the most successful Flemish theatre companies besides Muziektheater Transparant with which they often collaborate.
Let’s make something. but now mainstream. it also gave a direction of the new audiences it was looking for. moving away from the modernist tradition with its Orientalist tendencies towards a postmodernist style and approach that would allow including again the broader society. which reflects the multicultural society. and musical modalities that also stem from a Turkish tradition. This music theatre generally included all sorts of media and new forms of performance. to tell stories through music. the children were a mixture of Flemish and Belgian-Turkish identities.Opera/Libretto Symposium .Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
LOD initially started from a story-telling theatre and they included music from very early on to explore the narrative potential. LOD kicks off in 1991 with a performance. He used Turkish instruments. In that sense. 26-27th June 2011 . with children born in Belgium but with a migration background. Then you have a period of growth in the 1950s and 60s. despite that the music was also a bit difficult and composed by Dick van der Harst. Let’s go. It is what I call the music theatre ‘of the third wave’.Barcelona. In the twentieth century. there is a reinvention of music theatre in a very specific way. Significantly.
. playing music and acting together as a band. Not only did this ‘new’ music theatre in its infancy define itself in relation to the future. And then in the 1980s. Schoenberg and the like. Characteristic to this composer is the blend of different musical cultures. with Berio and Stockhausen among others. because it is responding to a legacy of music theatre and opera in a similar way as theatre did in response to its past and repertoire. such as the sas and oud. which literally means: “Let’s do it.” On stage were only children. guys. And this is basically where we are now. multiculturalism created the pivot for the new music theatre that was then alternative. it is very close to the development of ‘post-dramatic’ theatre in Europe. You have one in the 1910s in a still modernist tradition. So for LOD. Interestingly enough. with Stravinsky. Within this third wave of music theatre. one of the first projects that they realized as the departure point to become a music theatre ensemble was Allons les Gars. It presented itself as a very joyful parade: the children are enjoying themselves. one could see largely three waves of music theatre. or in other words.
To what extent is the harmony really reflecting a multicultural reality. The question of dramaturgy is foremost an aesthetical one. they create a new perspective on opera and its history.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
From that performance. so I am focusing on aesthetic mechanisms that are at work within those
. The tree falls down and the children try to resurrect it from the floor. and particularly how we make and interpret librettos and compositions in this cultural environment. interesting way of how this new music theatre relates to opera and the past. institutionalized past by tearing its trunk down. I introduced how the inclusion of the multicultural society today challenges opera dramaturgy. I sadly cannot show you anything more than a newspaper clipping. where children learn from each other. I have tried to understand from the critics at the time how they made sense of what they experienced. to which the joyous youthful parade responds in all its imperfections. but it can equally open new perspectives on the multicultural society. the hegemonic culture – has been recycled by the Dutch-born composer (of a father from Dutchcolonized Indonesia). But in the picture of this review you can see an image of a tree. In this way. more open music theatre. for all its innocence.Barcelona. how much of the old operatic past – and thereby. that is trying to reject or resist its operatic. which falls down during the performance (inspired by a Tarkovsky film). I have my own: I think you can see this tree as music theatre in itself. With this. 26-27th June 2011 . or rather a colonizing vision and a cultural conditioning in the head of the mastergenius? This is a very important question one should ask dramaturgically.Opera/Libretto Symposium . Music theatre offers a ‘point of view’. which is more open towards alternative ways of musical narrative and drama. This first performance by LOD demonstrates a first. Question is. I find this an interesting metaphor. however. but then it also resurrects again by recycling some of the operatic mechanisms to create a new. and there are very different interpretations. as well as to the multicultural reality of a new generation. This is just to show you a departure point for the multicultural impetus within the development of what is now mainstream music theatre.
But in order to understand those aesthetic mechanisms. He will introduce the story of the performance: [Fragment] “I would describe Nomad as a Romantic rebel. which means the ‘Empty Cradle’ in English. Let’s start with Boş Beşik. The cultural sector. a great sound as well. The performances I will talk about today are De Lege Wieg or in Turkish. who is still locked under the power of his mother. one cannot separate them from the social and historical aspects.. And the Turkish women’s choir. which is directed by Lotte de Beer.”
. and my mother is totally against it. That is why the stage rehearsals are quite often interrupted and the parts have hardly been learned by heart yet. and particular the multicultural initiatives. Before we see the performance. 1969) who plays the protagonist. Also because the story meets their lives.Barcelona.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
performances. We had quite a hard time to learn the score because it was quite late and now we are the last people in the chain of work and we have to catch up. because of the nature of these productions. I can say it’s a fresh and enthusiastic atmosphere. about twenty years old. if the cuts were really final. they are so enthusiastic. it’s an old Turkish folktale so there’s a connection with their roots. I surely hope not! The second performance I want to discuss will be Tango Türk. I will just let one of the performers talk.. but I think in the end it will turn out fine. Boş Beşik. also a Dutch theatre practitioner who made this performance for the Neuköllner Oper in Berlin. but our clans don’t get along very well. so this might have been one of the performances that would probably not have made it.Opera/Libretto Symposium . We try to come together and we are so much in love. 26-27th June 2011 . And they are great. He is so much in love with Fadime. and it’s a kind of Romeo and Juliet story. singer-actor Gunnar Brandt-Sigurdsson (Hamburg. within the political climate of this country are at great risk at the moment. Nomad. the choir. and which was directed by the Dutch director Cilia Hogerzeil (Zwolle) for Hollands Diep in collaboration with VocaalLAB in the Netherlands. I’m always switching between my mother and Fadime.
It is not insignificant that the story is inherent to the shared cultural memory among people with a Turkish or Kurdish migration background and that this is now being communicated in a Dutch setting for opera and music theatre aficionados. who are from the Dordrecht community of Turkish and Kurdish families. but equally for the Dutch-Turkish and Dutch-Kurdish communities who generally have little access to opera. Some of the people hear about it for the first time together with the non-migrant audiences in the Netherlands. marries a man. they built up the opera. as the Turkish and Kurdish cultural heritages of the first generation have been largely taken over by the hegemonic Dutch culture. she loses the child later again. In its address to the post-migrant communities. this high-trained singer with a half-Turkish migration background – he was schooled between 1996 and 2001 in the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen with Maria Kowollik – and on the other hand. The team of the Dutch music theatre company Hollands Diep organized intensive workshops with them. They women have been included in the project from day one of the creative process. The story of Boş Beşik goes that a woman. by some magical power and some dramatic switch. not classically schooled. 26-27th June 2011 . but there were also popular film versions in 1965 and 1969. The story is based upon a folktale from presumably around the sixteenth century from the area of the Taurus Mountains in southern Anatolia. which are more known. some in a first. but it is a very crucial cultural theme. Nomad. Central to the production is a Turkish narrative that is still vivid in most of the participants’ minds.Barcelona. there’s the choir of women. So it is not just that one knows the story and that the production helps to see it with different eyes. So then enters the problem: Fadime cannot get pregnant. However.
. on the one hand.Opera/Libretto Symposium . others in a second generation. much against the will of the families. from learning how they sing and how they experience music. and then slowly. she receives a baby.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
There are a few interesting points here to make: you see. By a strike of faith. This is of course a tradition that many cultures share. it is very important for Nomad’s family that she produces a baby. Fadime. after the marriage. the project can be significant for a second and third generation.
and talks about the 1980s coup d’état. After the coup d’état most of the Leftists and revolutionaries fled the country. He is a trade unionist. which is the catalyst of the drama. commented:] We see here on the stage of Tango Türk at the Neuköllner Oper an older man from the first generation. in which lies the origin of his life situation today. But upon the death of his mother. multicultural audience. he initially does not want to know anything about the history of his mother in Turkey.Barcelona. It tries to negotiate between those compositional traditions but also between listening habits and expectations of a hybrid. the Netherlands or Belgium and create their own businesses from scratch. he is confronted to reflect upon the family history and himself in relation to it. We meet here the protagonist Cihan. is to decompose Western and Eastern musical traditions. This scene comes with a Turkish tango song arranged by Turkish composer Sinem Altan. where there is somebody from the first generation. somebody else’s heart. Turkish traditional music itself – and I will give an example later – was
. He was demonstrating whilst putting up posters. The presence of family members in Turkey and Germany. besides driving the narrative. Besides them. who fled from Turkey to Germany in the 1980s.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
Next is Tango Türk by the Neuköllner Oper. who stands up and speaks about the political situation of the 1980s.” What Sinem Altan’s composition does. and a reflection of him as his unknown father who was in the midst of the political. you see a split between him as a contemporary German with Turkish roots (the son of his mother). made his family dysfunctional. It says significantly: “Your gaze is not mine anymore. he actually re-enacts his father’s choice to flee to Germany. volatile situation of the 1980s. the Family Reunion law that was passed in 1974 (but later amended) also made Turkish citizens to emigrate to Germany. we get a representation of the social turmoil on stage.Opera/Libretto Symposium . who is a typical German-Turkish cosmopolitan citizen who is into Internet businesses and he is also in denial about his past. [Fragment. 26-27th June 2011 . It belongs to somebody else. In this way. In this scene. as well as the individualistic life in Germany. After this small intervention of documentary theatre through personal testimony.
I think this is significant because what Tango Türk tries to do is not only to try to reach out to a local community around the Neuköllner Oper. semi-tones but also includes a wide array of styles and ethnic influences. at the Hans Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin. and Tango Türk which is music theatre in the third wave – actually reproduce stereotypes of the idea of opera. in a social sense. opera has undergone a deflation of its meaning. to tell the stories of the community. and it is rich in tonalities. but they are equally about other topics in the interest of its audiences. is genuinely Turkish music from the 1920s with polyvocal and polyphonic arrangement taken from the tango traditions of Buenos Aires in Argentina. 26-27th June 2011 . The Turkish composer Sinem Altan (1985. which can be refilled with new meanings and artistic expressions again. Both projects which I discussed – Boş Beşik which stands in a modernist operatic tradition. It pairs Occidental and Orientalist musical modalities together. Ankara) has received her music education in Germany. Tango Türk. to communities and people who have little or no history with opera. This has created a productive void for opera as a label. however. She has been a composer in residence of the Neuköllner Oper since 2008 and this is her second project. that can speak. opera is seeking new audiences. At venues such as Neuköllner Oper you see that through music theatre’s perspective. because.Barcelona. She plays a significant role in an ongoing research of the Neuköllner Oper to reach out to the German-Turkish communities in the direct vicinity. concomitant to music theatre’s intentions to reject traditional opera. It is a music theatre that tries to reinvent and re-establish the social commitment of opera.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
historically not polyphonic.Opera/Libretto Symposium .
. but also to share them with a larger audience on socio-cultural terms. it is generally monovocal with accompaniment. in the same way that the new music theatre did in the 1980s. More about this later. Question here remains if the search for new audiences and the rejuvenating of opera is not overshadowing the noble aims to represent stories of people with a migration background on stage. sometimes the projects deal with topics directly related to Germany’s multicultural society.
or to the extent that it makes artists of colour dependent on the economic demands to appropriate this European art form. as well as of one’s shared history. it is understandable that opera was never really accepted in Turkey. 26-27th June 2011 . in these projects plays a significant part in this. particularly in film. It was long part of a nationalistic strategy. despite a wave of Turkish operetta. Westernization and modernization were used to impose what the standards of good taste were. There were also a lot of foreigners working in trade and political diplomacy in Istanbul. In this sense. I believe we also should consider how opera operated historically in Turkey. Conversely. to alienate the more native traditions from art and thus also its participants. these projects tune into the collective and individual memories of post-migrants at the moment when these memories are fading or have been superseded. particularly French but also Germans. With Turkey becoming more culturally influential in the twenty-first century.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
and thereby the hegemonic European cultures. Art played a particular function in attracting foreign capital. to the extent that the audience members perceive them as such. For this purpose. and thereby also to reinforce what was happening in Turkey around that time in terms of its growing national economy which was based on foreign investments.Barcelona. In order to distinguish oneself and associate oneself with a higher class one had to act in a European or Western way. The search for identity through aesthetic and discursive negotiations of tradition and contemporary forms of music and performance practice. Today.Opera/Libretto Symposium . Turkey has about seven professional opera houses but some of them are in a permanent state of decay. also in the collective consciousness. new festivals are created in the wake of the
. Past – Opera in Turkey: Coming to Terms with Modernization? A relevant dramaturgical approach would need to encompass how people relate to these newly emerging forms of opera today. which increased under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk but started under the Ottomans by the end of the 19th century. Opera was part of a modernization and mainly westernization process.
our postmodern subjectivity. and it is up to the spectator through this episodic structure to recreate the narrative line chronologically. than with words. from within the hegemonic structure. In engaging with this art form. despite its inherence in modernist theatre.” The ‘land in ruins’ operates as a metaphor for the entire performance. opera and music theatre can express hybrid identities very well due to its flexibility and mobility: it is much more possible to express through music what is very close to how we experience or identify ourselves. with a reflective distance to it. And in that sense. which is based on colonial imperialism. who is now happy/ my soul has again become a land in ruins. and with that comes also a consciousness of social class and exclusion. But opera was always seen as a kind of disheartening art form.Opera/Libretto Symposium .Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
European Capital of Culture 2010 celebrations in Istanbul. postmigrant artists become more visible within the middle class society. [Fragment] The lyrics here are significant: “That is why I could not embrace you. 26-27th June 2011 . as a form that was not Turkish. But the question remains if this contributes to a more increased and normalized representation of artists of colour in the theatre and opera infrastructure. with flashbacks. So it does make sense that theatre practitioners as well as composers with a migration background would work with this in essence very Western art form. despite or perhaps due to its institutional framework. could not live your longing/ a bitter adventure it is. I am showing you the end. because. they have taken him from me/ He is the love of someone else. but there is always a sense of linearity
. As a way to end my questions of a dramaturgy that is tuned to the multicultural reality. not native. As such. The libretto tells the story in a fragmentary way. you could see the post-migrant forms of music theatre in Europe as a way of coming to terms with this history of modernization and westernization. it was from the West.Barcelona. This creates an interesting paradox. which includes the Tango Türk song. I would like to show you another clip from Tango Türk. EuropeanTurkish opera and music theatre projects could give voice to people and communities with a migration background.
Opera/Libretto Symposium . So there is a connection between the personal story. So there is this idea of a fragmented family or fragmented subjectivity in the performance and in how people relate to themselves and their relation to the past. Today.Barcelona.
. And I think this has been reinforced by the awareness that tango is a hybrid music form. Although the meter was Western.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
and genealogy within that fragmentation. because tango today is becoming very popular with the younger generation: they do not regard it as a Western art form that was part of a colonial past as such. Germany. as I just explained to you. but also a collective and cultural mechanism that is at work here. very Arabesque. especially when you think of migrant families living partly in Turkey and in Germany or across Europe. emotional music that they had in folkloric music. Tango became part of that same mechanism. you can read the lyrics in at least two ways: you can understand the song within the personal story of Cihan. It was appropriated. and not to the homeland anymore. the very individualistic story of German Turks in Germany. The fragmentation is significant. 26-27th June 2011 . Tango music brings in another interesting aspect. and like the text of the Tango Türk song. of a new political and social culture. they are now in a new place. Tango music responds to those contemporary social impulses. who now belongs to another country. the topics of the songs were very Turkish. The theme song in Tango Türk is one of the first genuine Turkish tango pieces from 1928. because it connected very well with the indigenous themes and the Arabesque. but it did not receive the same connotations as opera today. The music is also very telling. Dramaturgically. It refers to the numerous diplomatic receptions that were held at the Ankara Palace Hotel. but you can also see it in a more political and historical sense of a community of Turks that belongs somewhere else. which historians have identified as Atatürk’s ‘ballroom diplomacy’. this form is re-approriated by the young in Turkey as part of a new socialization and gender awareness. Despite a perhaps vague feeling of belonging to the homeland. Tango music was then seen as a Western art form.
Tango Türk’s music teaches us that. the mind in the body and the body in the mind. which should inform our dramaturgical approach. If I can give you just a little idea from Music Sociology. I think this explains one of the main aesthetic mechanisms of Tango Türk.Òpera de Butxaca i Noves Creacions
So. in a collective sense). with nostalgia. In Turkish. Just to end with a discussion point: is cultural convergence possible through music? Can we bring the cultures together or are we dealing here with another colonization through the senses? This question. this feeling is called hüzün or hüzünlü (meaning. and then there is a moment when a meeting can start to happen. we can still share similar feelings with this music. Identity like music is both a matter of ethics and aesthetics”.Opera/Libretto Symposium . appears at this moment of cultural adaptation in the performance. which has played a significant role in Turkish identity. though as outsiders we do not have immediate access to what hüzün means culturally and socially. and music making and music listening is best understood as an experience of a self in process. It describes the social in the individual and the individual in the social.Barcelona. in this way. Simon Frith says: “Our experience of music. Music like identity is both performance and story. tango music is used as a conveyor to communicate across communities and cultures. which touches upon a feeling of nostalgia. 26-27th June 2011 . Thank you!