A German Opera Spotlights the Refugee Crisis, With Refugees

MUNICH — “We tell the story of Moses because the idea will be actually our story,” one teenager, a refugee by Afghanistan by way of Iran, said inside the Hazaragi dialect to the German-speaking audience at the Bavarian State Opera here on a recent Sunday evening.

Others chimed in: “The story of Moses will be also my story,” they said in French, Kurdish, Greek in addition to Arabic.

They were the cast of “Moses,” a feel-not bad yet sobering brand new production by the Bavarian State Opera’s youth program, written for refugees, children of immigrants in addition to born-in addition to-raised Bavarians.

inside the opera, a mixture of brand new music by Benedikt Brachtel in addition to adapted excerpts by Rossini’s “Mosè in Egitto,” the teenagers tell the story of Moses — common ground for followers of the Bible, Torah in addition to Quran — with Brechtian interludes about refugee experiences in addition to current events.

The director Jessica Glause, who created the libretto based on interviews with refugees inside the cast, has concocted a blend of humor, horror in addition to youthful energy in which hardly feels like a didactic documentary about Europe’s refugee crisis. Behind the scenes, “Moses” has provided a way to learn German in addition to make friends — in short, to make the process of migration a little less painful.

in addition to audiences have responded favorably: The work’s premiere run, last December, sold out, in addition to because of demand, performances were added to the revival at the Munich Opera Festival in July.

Theater about the refugee crisis has proliferated in Germany since migration into the country reached its peak in 2016. however rarely has the hot-button issue — which continues to threaten Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power in addition to fuel the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD — entered the realm of opera, much less children’s opera.

in addition to “Moses” isn’t even the first work of its kind for the Bavarian State Opera, located in a traditionally conservative city. In late 2015, the company’s youth program, led by Ursula Gessat, decided to stage Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde.” At the time, hundreds of thousands of people were entering or en route to Germany because of the European Union’s open borders in addition to the country’s so-called Willkommenskultur.

Ms. Gessat said in which inside the first half of 2016, when the production was still in development, she in addition to her team thought of featuring refugees inside the cast — no musical experience required — in addition to eventually “Noye’s Fludde” became simply “Noah,” an adaptation in which included their stories.

in which summer, while Ms. Gessat in addition to her colleagues were on vacation, some of the darkest stories by the refugee crisis began to emerge: harrowing boat rides across the Mediterranean Sea in which left many dead, in addition to governments struggling to reckon using a massive influx of people in need of homes in addition to livelihood.

“When we came back,” Ms. Gessat said, “our idea was suddenly very relevant.”

Ms. Glause, who had volunteered on boats inside the Mediterranean, also wrote the libretto for “Noah,” after interviewing many of the same young refugees who are in “Moses.” She described the process — hearing stories of loss, danger in addition to fear by teenagers — as acting as both an artist in addition to a counselor.

Among the people she spoke with were Ali Madad Qorbani, a young man by Afghanistan who fled to Iran, then Europe, after his father had disappeared; in addition to Zahra Akhlaqi, also by Afghanistan, whose mother came to Europe first while she in addition to her sister waited in Iran, where, she said, they were forbidden by going to school however might dress up like students at home in addition to play pretend.

right now, their lives are slightly more stable, though just as precarious as any refugee’s. Mr. Qorbani will be an intern at the Bavarian State Opera, in addition to Ms. Akhlaqi will be a bright student who said she learned German in part by reading canonical literature like Goethe’s “Faust” in addition to Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” (She also speaks fluent English.)

The heart of “Moses” will be how they in addition to different refugees inside the cast have adjusted to life in Munich. If “Noah” was an opera about a journey, then “Moses” will be about what comes after, with questions about what the idea means to find a home in addition to how to fit in somewhere brand new.

There are still monologues of how in addition to why some of the cast members came to Europe, however much of the material will be about reconciling their faiths in addition to cultures with those of Germany — including one humorous passage about trying German beer for initially. however they also describe how they don’t always feel welcome, such as a scene in which the plagues in Moses’s story give way to one person describing signs near Munich in which say refugees overrun Germany like locusts.

Moments like This particular are sobering reminders in an otherwise uplifting story. Life offstage unfolds in much the same way, with stretches of happiness punctuated by harsh reality checks.

At a recent rehearsal, for example, the cast members behaved more like friends than colleagues: greeting each different with hugs, in addition to cheerfully working together on a challenging, even avant-garde production. Away by the opera house, Ms. Akhlaqi will be close with Mila Stephan, one of the Germans, who said they like to hang out in addition to cook Italian food together.

however there was also the day one of the cast members, a Nigerian refugee named Unity Okojie, went missing. He had performed inside the premiere run of “Moses” in January, however could not be found for the revival This particular summer. Ms. Gessat said he could still be in Munich, or back in Africa; they just don’t know.

His absence has been written into the show. At the moment where he should be generating his entrance onstage, Ms. Stephan in addition to Martin Lucke, another German cast member, address the audience, telling them what Unity might be saying if he were there in addition to explaining the instability of life for sub-Saharan refugees.

Toward the end of the opera, Ms. Stephan in addition to Mr. Lucke sing “Unity’s School,” a catchy English-language number about assimilation; the idea later served as a crowd-pleasing encore in which had even the usher, Stefan Schubert, dancing in addition to mouthing the words.

The Bavarian State Opera’s youth program will return next season with another refugee-minded adaptation: an Adam in addition to Eve story, based on Haydn’s “The Creation.” While the idea will be in development, the AfD party — with its nationalistic criticisms of state-funded institutions in which engage topics like the refugee crisis — continues to gain ground in German politics.

however, in interviews, Ms. Gessat in addition to Ms. Glause were quick to say in which their job will be to reflect the earth around them, in addition to in which the idea might be irresponsible to ignore the refugee crisis. Indeed, Ms. Glause said in which conservative politicians may change their minds if they met the cast of “Moses.”

“I might tell them to come see This particular show,” she said. “Come hear these stories.”