African injection for Western opera

July 2005 -

The opera Madame Paradji was recently studied and performed at record speed in Benin by students of the Benin International Theatre School, under the direction of an international team of directors. Late in April, the story of the child slave that grew to become queen of the trade of the Wax Hollandais fabrics that are so popular in West Africa was welcomed with cheers from both school students and adults.


Photo: Freerk Bos

Madame Paradji was a pilot project in the area of music theatre that strives to unite the best traditions from West Africa and from the West. According to the intellectual fathers of the project - Spanish director Javier López Piñón who lives in the Netherlands and Benin intendant Dine Alougbine - Western opera ran into a dead end decades ago. This is why only a small select group of buffs are still interested in it. They believe that an injection of fresh outside influence is the best medicine for shaking up music theatre enough to allow new types to evolve that can attract a new international audience.

The professionals from Benin, the Netherlands and Scotland all brought totally different traditions to the project. In addition to López Piñón as director and Alougbine as intendant, Angélique Kido and José Pilya wrote the music and libretto while Alexander Oliver acted as vocal coach. The Benin theatre school and the foundation Modus Operandi in the Netherlands were supported in setting up and implementing the project by DOEN Foundation, the Prince Claus Fund and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Cotonou. Negotiations regarding the performance of Madame Paradji in France, the Netherlands and other West African countries are currently on-going.

Pieter Blussé works at  the Embassy of the Netherlands in Cotonou, Benin