“Musraropera” is a mobile-radiophonic-opera developed in a historically charged quarter of Jerusalem, laying between fancy shops, the Palestinian area of Damuskus Gate and the ultraorthodox Mea Shearim.
Musrara is a mirror of the city, Israel and the complexity of the Middle East, inhabited by people of divers cultural, religious and political backgrounds, keeping the explosive coexistence of the past in motion. In the post-truth time we strategically place this pre-truth opera as a fictive rehearsal and master training to transform the uncertain present – in all different environments and places that host this friendly and exhausting but playful game between music, sounds, words and the urban environment.
“The locus of this work, Musrara has seen centuries of conflict and cooperation, discord and harmony, conflict and coexistence. Through their deeply researched, participatory process, the creative team has crafted a sensitive and multilayered approach which takes on this palimpsest and reveals its multiple truths. This is the power of artistic expression: to allow us to see beyond the rhetoric. In this piece, there are no passive observers. Everyone is implicated, everyone is part or the problem/solution. We’re all in it together.”
(Limor Tomer for the Jury Members of the 2018 edition of MusicTheatreNOW competition)
MUSRAROPERA is a mobile radiophonic opera, that had been conceived at the city quarter of
Musrara in Jerusalem/Israel by an invitation to the Musrara Mix Festival 2018.
Musrara is an extremely controversial area, in a context of a controversial city and country within
the Middle East. The quarter was located at the former borderline between Israel and Jordan in the
war of 1967. Nowadays it touches the area next to Jaffa street, with its shops, bars and cafés, the
Palestinian inhabited area of Damaskus Gate and the Jewish ultraorthodox quarter Mea Shearim.
The old houses in Arabic style, built by the former wealthy Palestinian upper class, have then after
they left in the 60ies, been inhabited by people of very different cultural, religious and political
backgrounds, keeping the explosive coexistence of the past in motion.
The future is uncertain, this is clear. It is constructed by future stories to come. In the post-truth time
we strategically place a mobile pre-truth opera: by creating an artistic dialogue of stories and truths
in speech and music, we change not only the future but as well the (understanding of) the past.
Present is the moment when we have the time frame and power to make transformation happen.
Theatre and performance are a concrete way to check what we don’t know and how (personal and
collective) history could be performed. It is the fictive rehearsal and master training of transforming
the uncertain present into a wished future world. The present is showing us what has not been done
in the last century. The unbalance between global north and global south, exported wars and
Eurocentric perspective is revolving and will not cease in the near future. It will be decided by our
acts routed in a wider discourse around all near neighbourhoods, especially around the
Mediterranean. Jerusalem has in this context a symbolic position connecting the cultural identity,
symbolic present and uncertain possible futures of a precious collectivity.
Starting from this point the storyline of the opera are the voices of the inhabitants of Musrara and
their visions of the future. The interviews are the ground of the piece, done by us with neighbours of
different generations, gender, countries, religions, economical and cultural backgrounds. They are
now and then accompanied or interrupted by joyful Palestinian kids speaking in Arabic who
constantly try to catch attention and create a connection, between here and there, between the past
and the future. The idea is to leave the explanations of the past behind and request a position and
openness towards what could become. The musical specificities of each voice are composed and
melted into a fictive collective choir revealing the harmonies and dissonances. The contradictions of
different positions are not evident at the first sight, but reveal its power at a concentrated and deeper
listening. The conflicts of those people apparently living peacefully together appear when the
narrations of the past and the future, offer insights of their visions of how the world should or could
be. Placed next to each other, in synch or in opposition, quietly, loud, occupying acoustic spaces,
they become a constant beat of living dispute.
The miniature-orchestra consisting of three musicians (non-semantic voice, clarinet and double
bass) moves though the streets and is captured live and composed electronically into a big cast. Via
radio transmitters and mobile phones the audience receives the music and narrative voice mix
while moving through the area. The finale happens at an open soccerfield, where games and fights
are played, one wish against another, still friendly, still exhausting, together and playful.
Musraropera projects visions into the future recurring to the old structures of the opera, full of
conflicts, emotions and pathos. The piece transforms the format into a container of nowadays voices
constantly adapting to its environment, absorbing its colours and qualities. Artistically it crosses the
borders of the format opening aesthetic and political discussion by staging the heterogeneity of the
wider neighbourhood around the Mediterranean and its countries.
In a further idea the site specificness of the piece absorbs as well the local voices and context where
it will be staged, blending different realities together to underline the relations of those places,
cultures and future visions with the symbolic area of Musrara.
Musraropera is not a usual opera following a fixed score. The two structuring performers of
sounding situations constantly act and react to each others artistic decision. Still the musical
composition follow specific rules.
The formal concern in the composition is to combine drama, sidespecificness, nowadays technology
and contemporariness with heritage, tradition, drama, pathos, lyricism, the theatrical stage.
The piece is structured in three major parts, an ouverture, the walk through the quarter and a
stationary collective finale. In the walking part, the most influential artistic decision is the urge and
vision to use sidespecificness as a platform for staging an artistic work, specifically an opera.
Binding the original interview material to its musicalisation, we pushed the musical- towards a
mobile composition, evoking in all aspects (stage, text and music) an authentic representation of the
real. We want to stage and connect the embodyment of the truth by involving the real
neighbourhood, the space as well as the people expressing their realities and convictions (concerns,
opinions, situations, dreams) as physical presence or (in the Jerusalem version) with their voices.
Their originary material, content- and soundwise, becomes the libretto which is interpreted and
musicalized. The words delineate, not only in semantics, but especially in their sound, the musical
composition as a basic music information carrier. Words lose their readability and become music,
are processed into music and are further musically interpreted by the singing voice. This voice binds
the semantic and dissolving words back into music, generating the melodic abstract, becoming the
music input material for the composition. At the same time the four acts (movements) of the opera
consist out of precisely outlined structures and forms interpreted by the active musicians
(doublebass, clarinet ecc) and preconcieved by the composition in order to full-fill the development
of the drama.
Particular aspects to focus on are the two creative music fields: one being busy with formulating the
theatrical act, by creating the soil on which it happens, and two the creative gesture of musicalizing
the semantics, formulating the dramatic evolution. We encounter musicless semantic and a
semanticless music. The contradiction of this polarity creates the excitement of the life-situation: on
one hand the musicians interpretation “lyrizises” the semantics and transforms the essence of the
“said” (of presumably all levels) into music. On the other hand the spoken word facilitates
music/singing and both elements create a monadic entity compiled by an agglomeration of
In the soccerfield moment the stage of drama and music urges for wideness. After the intimacy and
narrowness of the paths, shared with active audience members, active musicians, active
contributors, occasionally passing pedestrians, we approach a different quality of space. The
composition foresees a 30 piece ensemble of a most possible variety of tone generators –
acoustic/electronic/bowed/blown/brass/reeds – in order to produce a walkable grid of musicians.
The “Klangfarben”-music being created follows the score of “moving” sounds surrounding the
listening audience member and being mixed with a solo for processed semantics. The development
culminates in a “Klangfarben”-drone, produced by all present people and therefore conducts to an
active and audience-participatory tutti, finding a clear music ending.
Director, Composer: Klaus Janek, Milena Kipfmüller
Singer: Laila Shuala (France / Israel)
Clarinet: Nitai Levi (Israel)
Doublebass: Shira Harpaz (Israel)
Costumes: Fabienne Müller (Germany)
Technical Advisor: Jens Baudisch (Germany)
produced by Sounding Situations / Naggar Interdisciplinary School of Arts and Society
Premiere: 05-29-2018 / Musrara Mix Festival / Jerusalem, Israel