ROME (Reuters Life!) - An Italian orchestra mainly composed of migrants brings a multicultural version of Mozart's The Magic Flute to Rome on Wednesday to open the city's arts festival amid a debate over a crackdown on illegal migration.
The Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio, named after a square in Rome's cosmopolitan Esquilino district, will kick off the 24th edition of the Romaeuropa arts festival with an explosive version of Mozart's 1791 opera about a lost prince on a quest to win love in a magical realm.
From a Cuban trumpeter to Tunisian vocalists, an American violinist to Senegalese drummers, the 20-nation orchestra blends musical styles from reggae to jazz to create a modern version of the opera classic, mingling fairytales, popular melodies, languages, rhythms and sounds.
"We wanted to tell the story of a contemporary Magic Flute which takes place in a modern multi-racial society," explains founder and artistic director, Italian-born Mario Tronco.
"Our musicians have incredibly diverse backgrounds, not just geographically ... From reggae to classical to pop and jazz, our music is continually referencing different cultures."
For Giovanni Pieraccini, the festival's president, the Orchestra's cross-cultural, multi-ethnic approach is "profoundly linked" to Romaeuropa's philosophy and of "extreme cultural and political importance."
Moves by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government to tighten laws on illegal migrants and send migrants intercepted at sea back to Libya have sparked an angry public debate in the Italy. The Catholic church compared those ignoring migrant suffering to those who ignored the Holocaust in World War II.
Piariccini hailed the Orchestra as a good example of the "unity of human nature" at a time when a "refusal toward acceptance" was becoming more prevalent.
After premiering in Lyon and touring Athens and Barcelona, the orchestra's Magic Flute has won rave reviews and reached nearly 13,000 spectators in sell-out shows. Future performances are planned in Naples, Paris and London.
The roles in Mozart's libretto were assigned amongst the orchestra according to "a resemblance of character or certain life experiences," Tronco said.
The role of the amorous prince Tamino is performed by the orchestra's youngest member, 22-year-old Ernesto Lopez Maturelli who has "all the exuberance of youth," Tronco said.
Princess Pamina, with whom Tamino falls in love and rescues from captivity, is performed by British born folk singer Sylvie Lewis whilst Tamino's companion, the bird catcher Papageno, will be played by El Hadji "Pap" Yeri from Senegal.
The show's narrator will be Cuban Omar Lopez Valle, who left Havana for Europe in 1991 in a "voyage toward freedom.
The orchestra will present The Magic Flute as an oral history, with vocal performances in English, Arabic, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Wolof.
For the musicians themselves, the performance of their Magic Flute is not only an occasion for a positive social message, but also an opportunity for great creative input and improvisation.
With many of the orchestra's members untrained in the classical tradition, Mozart has been a new discovery but a transition at once "extremely natural" and enjoyable, according to the Orchestra's coordinator Francesca Povoledo.
"They're having a lot of fun," Povoledo told Reuters.
Editing by Daniel Flynn and Paul Casciato