For the past four months, I have been working intensively with my colleagues in the Traction project – intensively but remotely. Because of the measures taken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, we have not been able to meet in person since we first gathered in San Sebastian at the beginning of February. We have used the time to plan, think, write protocols, and prepare for the moment when it would be possible to resume working with people in community art projects. We have become adept and videoconferencing, but are desperate to get back to the work we love and that brought us together in the first place.
Today, we took a big step forward when our Portuguese partner, SAMP, held a press conference to launch their project with Leiria youth prison. Under their inspirational director, Paulo Lameiro, SAMP have already created three productions of Mozart operas in the prison – I saw the first, Don Giovanni, in 2015 – but this time, they will co-create a new opera, written and composed by professional and non-professional artists. They will also involve relatives and friends of the inmates, young men who have been released from custody, and people from the local community. Everyone will be connected by music, drama and stories, of course, but it is digital technology that will enable them to work together on either side of the prison wall. And today, it was digital technology that enabled the other Traction trials – the Liceu in Barcelona and Irish National Opera –to join SAMP at the press conference, and to combine their voices in song.
This is a brave project that confronts deep, complex obstacles, now compounded by the necessary health precautions. Even this moment of joy is shadowed by the tragic recent death of one young man with whom SAMP have worked. It has taken courage on all sides – the prison management, the ministry of justice, the staff, the artists and, of course, the prisoners and families who have chosen to take part. But I’ve rarely met people who bring as much care, insight and sensitivity to their work than Paulo, Sandra, David and their colleagues: it really is a privilege to work with them. On Monday, they will start making music in the prison, with three young composers they have recruited for the project. There will be bumps in the road, but today is a brilliant moment as the project finally goes live.