Friday review: walk with Amal

(Photo P. Claes for La Monnaie De Munt)

Every Friday, Polina Lyapustina delivers a short essay on some of the industry’s most essential topics with the aim of establishing a dialogue about the world of opera and its future.

In July 2021, a nine-year-old Syrian refugee named Little Amal began her 8,000 km journey from the Syrian-Turkish border across Europe to the UK. What made her so visible? Just the simple fact that Amal is a giant (3.5m tall) refugee child designed by Handspring Puppet Company. “Walking” is a ambitious work of art created and produced by Good luck Theater under the direction of Amir Nizar Zuabi. This week, Little Amal has finally reached the British shores.

The main artistic idea of ​​the project was to raise awareness and show compassion for the plight of refugee children, often left without their parents, using the magical power of creativity of many artists across Europe. Local artists were involved in the project in every town Little Amal passed through, showing their support for the idea and bringing “The Walk” itself to life. But with equal force, the idea has been criticized and attacked every moment by the authorities, the rightists and the simply intolerant.

“People felt threatened even by a puppet refugee,” headlined his article The Guardian.

But the farther north the expedition moved, the quieter the manifestations of aversion became. Unfortunately, there are no fewer of them. It’s just that the sated and well-nourished population of Central Europe has learned to respond more calmly to light scolding. “The Walk” was not meant to entertain, but to educate and make the problem more visible. And yes, the creators knew that it couldn’t always be peaceful – after all, life for refugees is not peaceful at all. Thus, the assault in Larissa (Greece), where people were throwing stones at the show, hitting local children, sparked serious conversations across the country.

Yolanda Markopoulou, producer of “The Walk’s” in Greece, says:

“Then people came in and started throwing things at the kids – it was really hard. Little Amal was in the headlines for days. People have really tried to overcome all of this negativity and sometimes a negative response can get more attention than something more peaceful. The whole country was talking about it. It was very impactful. “

Meanwhile, the silent hatred in Germany, France, Belgium and the UK has just made the event less visible – the children were playing with the puppet, why fuss? But there, I think, opera could really become a language to reach the upper class and power. In a beautiful high end way. Did opera work for her and support Amal?

In the recent massive media coverage of Little Amal’s arrival in the UK, the Royal Opera House announced that the theater will host the puppet for a slumber party on October 23. There, she will be surrounded by singers, dancers and musicians who have gathered to hold a night vigil to protect Amal and protect her from bad dreams. But this event is private and does not create a strong bond with the public or with the people who should hear about (and could affect) a refugee child’s nightmares. So who would be there? Only artists who care? Or is it just another check on a list of accomplishments for the theater this year? In any case, and unfortunately, it will not have a serious social impact.

Two weeks earlier, the Children’s Choir of La Monnaie De Munt hosted Little Amal in Brussels. It was a beautiful moment of compassion and education for the children, which is already a great and important movement, and yet there was no dialogue with the usual theater audience in the very town where the refugees were forced to go on hunger strike but had to end it after 60 days, renouncing the demand for a collective regularization of their status.

A truly inspiring moment was presented by Joyce DiDonato between these events when famous mezzo-soprano and guitarist Miguel Rincón Rodriguez accompanied Amal’s final moments on the French coast. It was another example of great art beyond stone walls.

Joyce DiDonato later wrote on her Instagram:

Tonight it was an incredible honor to sing for @walkwithamal before leaving the European continent in the morning for the United Kingdom in search of his mother. Thousands of refugees stood in front of this exact body of water in front of her, fearing for their lives, displaced from their homeland, in search of shelter. Thousands more will follow. We have the wonderful opportunity to open our hearts and welcome them. I wish you and your fellow travelers a lot of light on your travels, Amal. #BrayDunes – thank you for your lovely hospitality. #Amal – safe passage

These moments, I sincerely believe, have been and will continue to be inspiring and moving for the artists who participate in this impactful project. They will also be essential for Little Amal, who is about to end her long journey next week; hope it’s a happy ending. And yet, as noted by many people on social media, any happy ending is hardly expected and would not be allowed in the UK at all if Amal were a real child.

So this powerful act, and by extension, the conversation, really misses the point, preaching to the chorus without really engaging with the party it needs – those in power, those who decide. Unfortunately, these are the people who conveniently looked away and avoided “The Walk”. Ironically, these people are also the ones who are frequent visitors and admirers of opera, the very art form that could speak of. the problem to them on their terms and with language.

As artists open their hearts on stage and at small private events, as they always have, operas may remember that at first they were born as places where the most political and social decisions were made. important were taken in a magnificent setting. How many of these decisions have been toned down by the beauty of the art? How many souls have been saved?

Could we try again now? Unfortunately, not this time. Not for Amal.

Amal’s hope, as well as the future of refugee children in Europe, always seems to remain in the hearts of kind and compassionate people – where I think he was born. Meanwhile, in the minds of righties, conservatives and many in power, Amal and his 8,000 km march left only an unpleasant itchy feeling, which, as I mentioned earlier, can be and was easily ignored.



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