“Mr. Lehmann, why does the Goethe-Institut do this sort of thing?”

Visiting the Yanomami: Workshop with shamans and anthropologists (Photo: Pablo Martins)

At the Munich Biennale, the "Amazonas Music Theatre" was celebrating its world premiere. The dimensions of the project are unique – and still "typically Goethe", explains the president of the institute, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, in an interview.

At the Munich Biennale, the Amazonas Music Theatre was celebrating its world premiere. How did the idea for it come to be?

Lehmann: It came to be almost five years ago at the Goethe-Institut São Paulo during our focus on the themes of the Tropics and Culture and Climate Change. It was an important matter for our colleagues then to portray the diverse scientific results of Amazon research in a cultural project. In a joint project of scientists and artists, an entirely new form of multimedia music theatre came to be.

The project, we can say this much already, is also one of the year’s highlights at the Goethe-Institut. Why is that?

Prof. Dr. h.c. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Goethe-Institut | © Goethe-InstitutIt is rare for so many dimensions to come together in one project as in the Amazon opera. It is a cultural project that aims to do justice to high artistic and high socio-political demands. It is based on a widespread network of partners and sponsors. And it is accompanied by an extensive research and fringe programme and a strong web portal that went along with the genesis of the project. There is one more unique thing I’d like to point out: it is the very first time for such a large-scale project of the Goethe-Institut to have its premiere in Munich, the home of our main office.

What is special about this “opera”?

Definitely the collaboration with an indigenous people, the Yanomami, who live in the border regions between Brazil and Venezuela. They are important partners in this project, but will not be on stage; will not perform. Instead, along with the other project partners they contributed behind the scenes to the conceptual development of the work. Shaman Davi Kopenawa invited the participants to a workshop in the Brazilian rainforest with a number of shamans and the anthropologist Bruce Albert and the sociologist Laymert Garcia dos Santos.

We are talking about a huge, international joint project. Does this make the Amazonas Music Theatre part of a new understanding of cultural work at the Goethe-Institut?

They don’t need to be huge, but international joint projects are part of the core work of the Goethe-Institut. This isn’t new; trustful collaboration with partners is one of the crucial principles of the Goethe-Institut. This large-scale project, too, was only possible on the basis of years of trustful collaboration with our partners in Brazil and Germany. It’s not all that new, but also not the rule, that we occasionally dare to do something big in Germany to promote awareness of our work in Germany. Germany ought to experience something of the cultural encounters that Goethe-Instituts around the world initiate; it ought to grasp how important cultural commitment is and what can be achieved with it.

Of late, the subject matter of Ecology and Climate Change seems to play a role at the Goethe-Institut. Why is this so?

This is also not at all new. We have been dealing with the effects of climate change for many years now and with the links between nature and culture. What will the climate of the future be like? How will climate change become cultural change? How will our society change? How does art take up these changes? What perspectives can it convey? These are questions that we’ve been dealing with for quite a while now. We can only find answers if the conviction grows that these problems are everyone’s concern and not just something to be negotiated in isolation at global political conferences. With their intercultural competence, Goethe-Instituts can credibly mobilize people and reach new groups through unusual forms of presentation.

What will happen after the premiere in Munich?

It will be followed in late May by a project presentation with excerpts in Rotterdam, then in late July the entire project will go on stage in São Paulo. The extensive website, which also includes materials for teachers to download and an animated film competition, stands for the sustainability of this project.
The interview was conducted by Dominik Baur in May 2010.


    "It is rare for so many dimensions to come together in one project as in the Amazon opera."