‘Powerlessness’ – a word with a meaning as difficult as its pronunciation, is the central theme of the Dutch Opera Forward Festival 2017. New initiatives and talents are set on stage to reveal more than just new artistic interpretations. Between librettos and musical scores, there is an underlying message of reflection and collaboration on the role of Europe, the refugee crisis and the rise of populism. The Dutch Opera performances call for change.
This second edition of the Opera Forward Festival is centred around the theme ‘Power/Powerlessness’, focusing on the role of art as a medium for social change. Many artists today are committed to practices that combine art and social change in the hopes of transforming the way we perceive the world. Through the years, art has been a constant medium that engaged with issues of advocacy, justice and social transformation. Looking at the current political and social Dutch context, the engagement of the National Opera with new forms of ‘social practice’ comes as no surprise. Considering the refugee situation in the Netherlands, the asylum legislation which led to good (and not so good) practices, the rise of populism, it becomes evident that initiatives such at this festival provide a platform for reflection, collaboration and community building on a wider scale.
We are used to bottom-up, community initiatives being active and speaking-up on social change issues, yet when there are institutional perspectives, such as the ones coming from the Dutch National Opera, more substance seems to be added and we witness a ‘level-up’ on community interest. Either as the result of a perspective shift – local/institutional; or form of engagement – visual, conceptual; initiatives such as this one raise awareness and establish a different sense of urgency on issues of our time.
Take the example of Fortress Europe, one of the operas featured during the festival. As part of a series of newly composed operas focused on current affairs, Fortress Europe tackles the refugee crisis by reinterpreting the role played by European political interests and personal desires in this situation. Art and reinterpretation are central to this project, yet taking the metaphors aside, Fortress Europe is an innovative initiative which meaningfully engages with the refugees issue.
It becomes obvious that cultural and creative expressions, such as the Dutch Opera Forward Festival, are to some extent means that affect social change. Through librettos and reinterpretations, society’s assumptions are challenged and art becomes a medium that calls for participatory action.
Feeling inspired? Watch the video below.