“Pavilhão Mozart is, first and foremost, a physical space within a prison which is organized in several halls”, explains Paulo Lameiro, artistic director of the project Ópera na Prisão, promoted by SAMP – Sociedade Artística Musical dos Pousos at Estabelecimento Prisional de Leiria – Jovens (EPL-J) since 2015. “But it is also a work model, a methodology that has been developed over the last years with PARTIS”, which, apart from working with external creators, “contemplates a work of co-creation and involves the participation of all the members of the penitentiary community, including the families of the inmates who get in to rehearse with them”.
This is the result of a project that started off as “Ópera na Prisão: D. Giovanni 1003-Leporello 2015” [Opera in Prison], with the support of the PARTIS initiative, and turned into “Pavilhão Mozart – Só Zerlina ou Così fan tutte?” during its second edition. The starting point of both editions was the recreation and presentation of an opera by Mozart with the intent of improving, through artistic creation and the practice of music in general – and opera in particular –, self-esteem, self-control, as well as the civic and personal skills of the young at EPL-J.
Watch the video about Pavilhão Mozart. Directed by: Tiago Figueiredo
From the transforming power of opera to augmented virtual reality
During the first years of the project, something became very clear for both Paulo Lameiro and the team: “it is very important for the inmates to step outside prison and present their work in a professional stage, but for the rest of the community it is as important to step inside and be able to watch the musical performance”. Thus started the dream of, during Opera in Prison’s second edition (2016-2018), creating a permanent space inside the prison, which would be suitable to present a major work – just like an Opera by Mozart. The old pavilion that used to serve as a bookbindery inside EPL was recovered, and now, after the renovations, which began in July 2020, it is ready to embrace its extraordinary new life. Besides the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in the context of the PARTIS initiative, Pavilhão Mozart was also financed by Portugal Inovação Social and Fundação Caixa Agrícola de Leiria.
Looking back at the last five years, Paulo Lameiro lists as the most important lessons the “transforming power of opera”; the importance of involving not only the families of the inmates, but also the entire community that takes part in the project (guards, psychologists, politicians, councillors, presidents of commissions and foundations, stage directors, musicians and artists); but also the “audacity of prison services”. “None of this would have made any sense if the prison had not embraced with open arms the creation of this space, which is not directly devoted to health or professional reintegration, but to the training of stage professionals” explains the artistic director. “This is the proof of all the path we did and of an unbreakable team spirit: we work together so we can accomplish something that is transforming for everyone”.
The future is still uncertain, but 2021 seems to be off to a good start. The project Traction is currently taking place. It is financed by the programme HORIZONTE 2020, in a partnership with Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona) and the Irish National Opera. Using augmented virtual reality technologies – which have already been installed at Pavilhão Mozart – the project aims to “go beyond prison bars and concrete walls, but also to overcome the human barriers and the prejudice concerning life inside and outside prison”. For the long term, there is the hope that other projects and challenges such as this one can arise so that “the city of Leiria can have another space for artistic performances that happens to be within the walls of a prison”.