Syrian refugees join Mozart opera to deliver message of peace

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 6 October 2014 15:41 GMT

The refugees, initially dubious, gained confidence during rehearsals and contributed ideas of their own to the opera

LONDON, Oct 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Appeals for peace in Syria are usually made by politicians and activists calling for ceasefires, negotiations and aid supplies.

However, in southwest Germany dozens of Syrian refugees who have, for now, found safe haven after fleeing civil war in their homeland, are delivering a message of peace through opera.

A special adaptation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte", which had its premiere in Stuttgart on Sunday, starred several Syrian refugees alongside a cast of international opera singers.

Cornelia Lanz, the German mezzo-soprano who has been leading the project, said hearing first-hand accounts of the war made her realise the importance of "instilling a clear message of peace and hope into the adapation."

"In my lifetime in Germany I have never felt the war, but by living with the Syrian people and talking together, I am very touched and very hurt about what war does to people," Lanz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Stuttgart.

The 3-1/2-year-old conflict in Syria has killed more than 190,000 people and displaced millions, according to the United Nations.

"In the middle of a rehearsal, one of the refugees got a message that some of their family members in Syria had been killed, and that signifies why we want this opera to be a message of peace for Syrians, and also for the whole world."

"Cosi fan tutte", set in late 18th century Naples, Italy, tackles the topic of love and fidelity, played out by two male friends, who, for a bet, test their lovers by pretending they are going to war but return disguised as exotic strangers.

The game gets out of control when each men discovers that his lover has fallen for his friend.

Lanz said director Bernd Schmitt had the idea of staging the opera in a refugee home, placing "Cosi fan tutte" against notions of silence, ignorance and boredom.

In April, the mezzo-soprano contacted Father Alfred Toennis, founder of the Give a Home Foundation in Ogglesbeuren, in southwest Germany, and learned that his former monastery was housing more than 70 refugees from Syria.


Determined to add a new dimension of war to the traditional plot of Cosi, Lanz approached the refugees with her plan to make them an integral part of the opera.

The new arrivals were initially dubious, but took on more responsibility during several months of rehearsals and gained the confidence to contribute ideas of their own, Lanz said.

"It really became a joint project, we built the stage together, and the Syrians included their stories and songs in the opera," Lanz said.

Ahmad Osmani, who was arrested and detained for six months by Syrian government forces, said he was sceptical about the project at first, but Lanz's determination eventually won him over.

"Oh this woman is serious, so let's see what the opera is. And so we started and it was really a great thing in my life," Osmani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For 18-year-old Mayza Chemali, the chance to be part of the opera brought great excitement into her otherwise monotonous life as a refugee in Germany.

"At first, in the beginning, I thought that Germany is not good and is so boring, and we have no future here," Chemali told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"But after the opera, and after we sing our scales through the opera, I saw that there's a future for us, and I am so excited to be in Germany, and we are so lucky here."

Cosi fan tutte had its premiere on Sunday night at Stuttgart's Theaterhaus.

(editing by Tim Pearce)

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