A big scale community opera production
La Gata Perduda
Opera from the experience of prison
On the face of it, opera would be of little interest to young men in prison, especially if their heritage is rooted in other cultures. But for years the Sociedade Artística Musical dos Pousos (SAMP) has been working with the inmates of a youth training prison in Leiria, central Portugal, to produce opera and other artistic work.
First, the community—inmates, relatives, prison staff and local artists—co-created a completely new opera, drawing on their own experience on both sides of the prison walls. Working with three composers and a librettist, they used the myth of Ulysses and Penelope to create a moving and powerful meditation on the experience of separation and the life choices that can produce it.
Secondly, they used a new digital web platform to combine live performances from different locations, thus virtually passing through the walls separating them.
They have performed Mozart with a lot of success, in the prison and in the Gulbenkian concert hall in Lisbon. The Traction project gave them an opportunity to do something radically different.
The final work, O Tempo (Somos Nós)—Time (As We Are)—was performed at the prison on 3 and 4 June 2022 and at the Gulbenkian Concert Hall in Lisbon on 16 and 17 June 2022 for a combined audience of about 2,500.
The support of the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice was vital to making this brave production possible, and discussion continues about the role of opera and the arts in rehabilitation. Funding is already secured to continue the work for the next three years.
But perhaps the most compelling evidence of the work’s success is how many inmates stay in touch with SAMP after their release: several came to see the new opera and offer their support for the work.