Intercultural project Hello Opera! – Cultural Mediation Means Participation

Logo of Komische Oper Berlin, Germany; Photo: © normanposselt.com
Logo of Komische Oper Berlin | Photo (detail): © normanposselt.com

“Selam Opera!” is Turkish for “Hello opera!”. Behind this is an intercultural project in which the Berlin Comic Opera is seeking to open itself to new audiences. A German-Turkish children’s choir, various workshops and the translation of all the Comic Opera’s repertoire into Turkish have shown that here something is being done for cultural education. For this the opera house has received considerable attention. An interview with Mustafa Akça, the project manager of “Selam Opera!”.

Mr Akça, why did you initiate the German-Turkish children’s choir?

It all started with a children’s opera on which we were working, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The idea for a Turkish-German children’s opera came from our chief dramaturge, Ulrich Lenz. It was then composed and arranged by the Turkish composer Taner Akyol. While working on it, we noticed that in our 80 or 90-member children’s choir there wasn’t a single child with an immigrant background. But if there’s going to be a Turkish-German children’s opera, then it should really be a matter of course that there are Turkish children in it.

We then sent out calls through various channels – for example, on the Turkish radio station Metropol FM. I even went with flyers from door to door and spoke with families. In the end we took an additional 40 children into our children’s choir. Participation is free, by the way.
The children’s choir existed of course before this action, but somehow only German parents heard of it. The self-understanding of the Comic Opera was that the doors were actually open. We then became aware that there was a communication problem between the immigrant population and the opera house.

Communicating on an equal footing

Open doors then aren’t enough to reach a new audience?

An important part of my job is to ask: What can we convey so that more people come to the opera and take up our offers? New projects are of course discussed internally so that they fit with the institution. This includes, for example, the project Operndolmuş, with which to carry on low-threshold music education. We go with singers, musicians and a dramaturge directly to people, to unusual places and give small concerts, sometimes even in living rooms.

Dolmuş means “filled up” in Turkish – it’s what small share taxis are called in the language. The Dolmuş concerts aren’t events with the moralizing undertone of “high culture”. They’re simply about communicating with people on an equal footing. Incredible things happen. People have wept when they’ve heard performances of the Habanera, the famous aria from the opera Carmen, in Turkish.

Education with cultural means

Many critics believe that cultural education projects aim only at polishing the image of an institution and selling more tickets.

There’s the economic point of view, and there have to be people at an opera who take this view. But as for me, the social opening of the institution is much closer to my heart. Cultural education in the sense of participation in the customary culture enhances the quality of life of every individual.
In our children’s choir, cultural education is in fact education with cultural means, that is, with the means of opera. Parents now come to me and say: “Mr Akça, it’s incredible what has happened to our child!” He or she comes home and talks about clefs, notes and core scenes of the opera. It’s great for me to see not only how the children but also the parents develop. It’s a huge project and is part of the backbone of this initiative. Is it also cultural education? Absolutely!
 

Mustafa Akça born in Berlin, trained as a plumbing and heating installer after completing his schooling. This was followed by technical college, study at a drama school and a job as an entertainer on a cruise ship. After a brief stint in television, Akça worked for eight years as a community organizer before coming to the Berlin Comic Opera.