Orfeo & Majnun: a Multidimensional Community Process

1 May, 2018

As part of the Get Close to Opera Erasmus + project, we have been learning about our members’ involvement in fantastic initiatives exploring community opera and intercultural dialogue. One such example is currently in the spotlight – La Monnaie / De Munt’s European project Orfeo and Majnun – as rehearsals are in full swing.

The Orfeo & Majnun project blends the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with the well-known Middle Eastern love story of Layla and Majnun, as part of the process of creating a new opera about love, loss, and longing and exploring universal values and cultural archetypes.


Opera as a Multidimensional Community Process

Orfeo & Majnun moves beyond the regular production process incorporating various components and activities. A first participatory component, from September 2017 to February 2018, brought together citizens of all ages and all backgrounds from local schools, cultural and community centres, public venues, and participants of singing, music, drama, masks and shadow theatre workshops. The combination of the two narratives, Western and Arabic, and their themes so profoundly human and hence universal, created favourable conditions for dialogue, intercultural focus on understanding and respect, as well as genuine collaboration between communities through collaborative co-creation processes. Most importantly, though, it allowed individuals and communities to freely express their creativity, artistic meaning and sense of belonging to a greater community of creatives.
The second part intertwines the two tales in a musical play, sung in English (Orpheus and Eurydice) and in Arabic (Leila and Majnun), and narrated by a narrator (in French), where cultural specificities, musical styles and languages echo. The orchestra, composed of western and oriental instruments connects the two worlds. The participants of the first part are involved in the co-production at various levels and through different activities of this transcultural music theatre project.


Involving a Wide Variety of Communities

The education department of La Monnaie has been working with two schools in Brussels for several months through workshops held both at schools and at the opera house. Through the initiative of La Monnaie the children from both schools also had several opportunities to meet outside of school hours for shared lunches and other activities.
During one late April afternoon, we followed the artistic journey of the two local schools and a choir of children and young people from La Monnaie during their singing rehearsal alongside the main characters. 30 children from a French speaking school and 30 children from a Flemish speaking school from culturally diverse backgrounds Brussels were encouraged to mix in the crowd and actively explore the ideas of love and longing through bodily movement, singing, narration, and through following with awe the lead characters. As the children sang powerfully ‘Who am I? What is my true name? What should we do? And why do we feel alone?; the entire artistic crew watched with astonishment, while one could see a tear rolling down Martina Winkel’s (the librettist and co-designer) cheek – a truly magnificent and powerful creative process!
The creative journey of the community opera will conclude on June 30 with two parts: A grand production in La Monnaie’s main auditorium and an open-air parade in the city centre of Brussels with animals and mythical creatures produced by the project itself.


A Local Community Project Going Europe-Wide

Orfeo & Majnun is also an example of a truly European, transnational co-production. Orfeo & Majnun was also selected for funding (2018-2020) by the European Union’s ‘Creative Europe’ programme. In the second phase, after the grand finale in June 2018 in Brussels, the project will be taken over by the various partners with whom La Monnaie, the project designer and leader, is associated: the Wiener Konzerthaus (Austria), the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (France), the Valletta 2018 Foundation (Malta), Operadagen Rotterdam (the Netherlands), the Krakow Festival Office (Poland), and the MSMFeira (Portugal). Designed in a modular form, the project allows each participating city to choose to focus on one of the two components, or take over the whole. The first component with the associated activities and workshops, will vary from city to city depending on the proposals and actions developed by each partner. The second, musical theatre, will be touring in different partner cities with led by the artistic team of La Monnaie and accompanied by choristers and local artists.

Find out more about Orfeo & Majnun here

Find out more about Get Close to Opera here