El Sistema Opera Mediterranee: The First All-Opera Sistema Program

Opera is one of the most complex accomplishments of our Western musical heritage, mixing vocal and instrumental musical with poetry, theater and visual arts.  In our times, freed from many elitist clichés, it can come back to its primal source and be experienced as a very popular form of artistic expression. Its mix of singing and acting, of costumes and lightings, can be a great attraction for young people, who can play and enjoy as they learn from the operatic experience.

For this reason, French director Magali Thomas and Italian composer and conductor Sergio Monterisi have formed El Sistema Opéra Méditerranée, the first Sistema program in the world fully focused on opera.  The program, located in Cannes, France, offers children instruction in vocal technique, choral and solo singing, music theory, theatrical direction and expression.  About 30 children, ages 6-14, from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds, are involved; with many from disadvantaged neighborhoods in Cannes.

Prior to the program’s formal launch, the founders created a pilot production called Peter Pan—The Opera, in which the magical world of the 1904 play Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, was rendered by very young soloists, with more than 70 children portraying the Lost Boys. Check out a teaser here.  This production also experimented with many new theatrical technologies, such as 3d animation movie projections, costumes in optical fiber, and a smartphone application to fully immerse the audience in the colors, lights and sounds evoked by the show.  The success of this production convinced the founders to launch El Sistema Opéra Méditerranée in November 2017.

The main feature of the program is the creation of a new opera every year, written by Magali and Sergio for the children of the nucleo and adapted to their own personal features.  The young participants are immersed in the full experience of “building” an opera production: costumes, musical piano rehearsals, stage rehearsals, dress rehearsals.  They also develop their creative and critical sensibilities by working together on the psychology of the characters they play. During rehearsals they study, sing and act side by side with their teachers as well as with professional opera singers who enthusiastically share their skills and experience.

In 2018, the main project was “The Selfish Giant” (based on a story by Oscar Wilde), written and conducted by Sergio and directed by Magali, with the participation of two professional singers, French baritone Richard Rittelmann and Italian soprano Cristina Giannelli—the first “godparents” of El Sistema Opéra Méditerranée. The message of the opera is one of love and children’s innocence overcoming selfishness.  An ensemble of flute and lute players from the Conservatories of the French Riviera accompanied the production.

In addition to collaborating on original shows, the children also have the experience of participating in non-traditional stagings of operatic classics such as Carmen, La Bohème, The Magic Flute, and Hansel and Gretel.

El Sistema Opéra Méditerranée also launched a new project in the city of Nice, where they work with 70 children in collaboration with a primary and a secondary school. In December, a new production of “Peter Pan” is programmed with them. A new collaboration with the city and the Conservatory of Draguignan will start in January, with a program spread over three years.

Author: Serge Monterisi, Co-Founder, El Sistema Opéra Méditerranée

Date Published: 27 October 2018

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