Research projects are exploring the capacity of artists to reduce inequality in the digital age.
A special opera performance in Lisbon improves inclusivity for the marginalised while digital literacy will create new artistic opportunities.
Four professional Portuguese singers performed the main roles in a new opera based on Homer’s “Odyssey” at a packed concert hall in Portugal’s capital Lisbon in mid-June.
Also on the stage that evening were 16 amateur performers from the central Portuguese city of Leiria, where they are members of the city’s “school prison” population. The prison houses offenders in the age range of around 16 to 21 years.
What’s more, a second group of Leiria inmates took part in the performance by video link from a stage that was located back in the jail 150 km away.
Welcome to TRACTION, a European research project that tackles social exclusion through the use of opera. The people behind it are redefining what is often perceived as an elite activity so that some of society’s most-marginalised groups – young offenders, migrants and the rural poor to name but three – can find expression for themselves.
New artistic languages
‘Through co-creation between professional and non-professional artists, new stories are emerging, new ideas being tested, new artistic languages being established,’ said François Matarasso, a freelance community artist working with TRACTION.
‘Imprisonment, migration, poverty and courage have been stories in opera before,’ said Matarasso, ‘But not as they are told by the people most affected, in the languages they speak and the music they sing.’
TRACTION belongs to a group of European research projects that are exploring the intersection between creativity, society and technology – and the capacity of artists to reduce inequality in the digital age.
The opera is the work of a trio of Portuguese composers and is called “O Tempo (Somos Nós)”, or “Time (As We Are)”.
Each of the composers, who are all friends, did two of six scenes, which take 90 minutes to perform. The libretto, a text to accompany the opera, is also by a Portuguese native.
According to Matarasso, the story is based on the myth of Odysseus (or Ulysses in Latin) and his wife Penelope. While Odysseus is the wanderer who makes choices and faces temptations, Penelope is making choices and facing temptations of her own while she waits patiently for the return of her husband from the Trojan War.
TRACTION is finding new ways of making opera in, with and for today’s diverse and democratic society
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