Over 100 Young People Participate in the Opera Camps
Each camp dealt with its respective opera in a thorough and individual manner. In according with interest and ability, the participants could be a part of an instrumental ensemble, a choir, a play, a film, a dance or stage design work shop. The participatory nature of the event was characteristic of the camps' method of operation, and the closing performances were conceived to establish a connection between the characters of the operas and the experiences of the young people themselves. In this manner, the youngsters were introduced to the world of opera, a genre which usually interests only the grownups, and could participate in a meaningful way.
During this festival summer in the "Haus for Mozart", "Ariadne auf Naxos" by Hugo von Hofmannsthal / Richard Strauss was performed in an alternate version of the original work, in which the comedy with music, "Der Bürger als Edelmann" preceeded the opera "Ariadne auf Naxos". Strauss's later addition in the place of the comedy, the "Vorspiel", was omitted, and the camp oriented itself on this staging concept as well.
Strauss Camp (9-12 Years)
In the "Bürger als Edelmann (The Bourgeois Nobleman)", originally a comedy by Molière, the wealthy, but rather simple and pretentious businessman Jourdain, wants to assimilate himself into the Parisian nobility. In order to appear in a better light, he hires various coaches: a music teacher, a dancing master, and a philosopher. Under their tutelage he intends to quickly familiarize himself with the practices of this elevated society.
The concept we used in our Strauss-camp selected this aspect of the comedy and demonstrated that striving for desirable social position was not merely characteristic of earlier times, but is pertinent today as well. Jourdain - the participants of the opera camps gave him the first name of Peter - is, in the student's version, a gardener in the employ of the wealthy businessman, Baron Rosenzweig. Peter also becomes a wealthy man upon winning the lottery, and likewise wishes to become a respected member of the upper crust, like Mr. von Rosenzweig. For him, having money is not enough, he also wishes to learn how to handle himself in these circles. He asks the Baron if he would help him and receives lessons in the customary manners and behaviour of high society.
All of the children have experienced this at home and continue to experience such situations whether in learning table manners, how one behaves when greeting people, or choosing the appropriate clothing for various occasions. In the camp, we took everyday occurrences and developed them into short scenes and picture sequences for paper theater. These were combined with excerpts from the music of Richard Strauss, which were performed by the children with members of the Vienna Philharmonic. The childrens' own songs addressed social rituals of everyday life.
Our performance was also divided into two parts. As in the "Bürger als Edelmann", the behaviour of Peter Jourdain was first schematized. Once he had command of the proper behaviour and had comprehended the dress code, he was ready for a visit to the opera. Peter Jourdain and Baron Rosenzweig assumed their seats in the audience. In the second part, a short version of "Ariadne auf Naxos" was performed. Nearly all of the characters in the opera - Ariadne, the three Nymphs, a harlequin and Bacchus - made their appearances. Even the chorus conductor, as well as the arranger simplified the arias, choruses and instrumental numbers of the opera in such a way that the children could perform them, but still being able to recognize the original composer.
The experience with Ariadne was proven successful when, during the television broadcast of thes opera, the nine-year-old Magdalena remarked to the amazement of her grandfather: "I know this!" and then proceeded to sing the melody along with its text. She had sung in the chorus, played in the instrumental ensemble and was familiar with the characters. In this way she had internalized and retained the music.
Our "Bohème" began in the winter, one year after Mimi's death. It is Christmas Eve and Marcello is the only one of the four friends who still lives in the attic apartment. He must earn his living with his painting, but the past still haunts him. Everything which he paints consists of memories of Rudolfo, Mimi and Musetta. In his pictures the merchants bustle around the Christmas market, as do the visitors in the Café Momus, and the street sweepers and milkmaids of the Barrière d'Enfer. But when Marcello leaves his Atelier, the characters of these paintings come alive and intrude into his life. They conjure up the past and help him find comfort. The students of our camp dealt with the characters of the opera, with their thoughts, their problems, and their appearances. In place of the arias they wrote poems about such strong emotions as love, sadness, leave-taking, and death. The children from the stage design workshop learned different techniques of painting, and produced thereby the greater portion of the set for the performance.
Puccini Camp (13-15 Years)
The preferences and abilities of the children were varied and it is exactly with this in mind that we formulated our concept. We chose not to limit ourselves to solo roles, but rather pursued the development of scenes and the creation of assignments, to captivate and challenge the imaginations of the children and young people. Our team consisted of specialists from the orchestra, the chorus and set designers. Every youngster worked in at least two areas which they were allowed to choose, and all of them sang in the ensemble chorus The instrumental ensembles coached by members of the Vienna Philharmonic, who also greatly assisted us at the concluding performance.
The opera camp for this age group was an experiment that proved to be quite successful. The twenty-five interested and highly motivated participants had to some extent previous experience with music, singing or dance.
Bizet Camp (16-18 Years)
In our "Carmen", the focus was not on the title role, but rather on Don José. Six short films, which the young people filmed and cut themselves, portrayed how a man's life broke asunder due to his uncontrolled passion - "The Deconstruction of D.J". The music, on the other hand, moved in the opposite direction, beginning with Carmen's death and ending with the prelude. With dance numbers and choreographed chorus scenes, the youth were able to captivate their audience.
Professor Helmut Zehetner, who worked intensively with the young people, made the following summary: "For the performances it is most important that the children leave with the impression that they have performed music with professionals, and that is meaningful. In music, a great deal of energy is unleashed. This is conveyed from the participating orchestra members to the children in the program, and that creates inspiration."