A Migrant’s Tragic Journey to Europe. It’s Not on the News, It’s Opera.
Off the coast of Sicily, a rickety boat of migrants is in distress. Tossed by waves and drenched, women and children scream as a voice barks, “Jump and swim!” They do, but — as history shows — not everyone will make it.
This is the tragically familiar journey that has been made across the Mediterranean by countless migrants fleeing war and famine in recent times. But instead of transpiring in the sea between Italy and Libya, this scene was being enacted on the stage of the Teatro Massimo, an opera house in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.
Co-produced by the theater and by the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, “Winter Journey,” which had its world premiere in Palermo earlier this month, tells the story of desperate migration from troubled, war-torn countries to Europe.
“It is a journey toward a country where they will find hostility, a cold welcome or perhaps no welcome at all, to a place where there is a winter of the soul,” said Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi, who wrote the score of the opera to a libretto by Irish novelist Colm Toibin. “It is a journey to a hostile world,” Einaudi said, “in which your soul can die.”
The story is told from the perspective of three characters: a man from an unnamed country moving from hardship to hardship as he seeks a better life in Europe, and the woman and child he has left behind. The choir serves as a Greek chorus, while a politician (a speaking role) intervenes intermittently with refrains that will be familiar to many European ears: “The boat cannot dock at our port,” “Why should we deal with this problem?” and, “We do not want strangers on our streets.”
Toibin said in a telephone interview that the work was “a simple story, almost a folk tale,” in which the main characters “sing their own stories,” focusing on the personal to “stir emotions.” But “Winter Journey” is not a simple call for open borders, he said. “Even though it is clear where my sympathies lie, I am alert to the complexity of the argument, and that has to be registered.”
The project was hatched in late 2017, when the theater asked Einaudi and Palermo-born film and stage director Roberto Andò to come up with an opera about migration.
In an interview, Andò described the work as a eulogy, of sorts, for “the Europe that was and isn’t anymore. A world that we hoped had more strength and instead risks faltering.”
文／Elisabetta Povoledo 譯／陳韋廷