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Music

Opera gala combats AIDS with good spirits

Despite progress in the treatment of the illness, it remains a serious worldwide threat. The Fifth Gala for the German AIDS Foundation joins the fight against the disease - with an arsenal of singing and laughter.

"Let's not forget to laugh" were Guido Westerwelle's words as he faced leukemia. Germany's former foreign minister recently lost his battle on March 18. A native of Bonn, he was also a strong supporter of the annual gala that, with opera melodies, superb voices and cheer, mobilizes forces against a different, more widespread illness. Proceeds from the benefit concert go to the German AIDS Foundation.

Westerwelle's words were recalled by the gala's initiators, Helmut Andreas and Arndt Hartwig, on Monday (04.04.2016) in Bonn when announcing the program of the upcoming event. They also welcomed two new members to the board of trustees: Bonn's mayor Ashok Sridharan and Eckart von Hirschhausen, a physician, comedian and television celebrity in Germany.

"Medicine cannot heal every ailment," said Hirschhausen. "And health care givers need help themselves because they are emotionally engaged." Addressing the issue, Hirschhausen founded Humor Helps to Heal, staging lectures and entertainment at the Bonn University Clinic's AIDS station. In support of Hirschhausen's initiative, Elisabeth Pott, Chairwoman of the German AIDS Foundation, handed him a check for 10,000 euros out of the proceeds of last year's gala.

Sridharan, for his part, noted the annual Bonn charity's striking success - generating proceeds of 56,000 euros in its first year and 165,000 euros in 2015. The foundation also organizes benefits with operatic highlights in Berlin (now in its 22nd year) and in Dusseldorf (in its seventh edition).

Russische Sängerin Julia Novikova (Sopran)

A diva? Definitely a star: Julia Novikova

Tomorrow's and today's stars

In the nearly sold-out benefit in the Bonn Opera House on May 21, 10 young operatic stars - some of them with a high name-recognition factor - will sing. Heading the list is German soprano Simone Kermes, Singer of the Year at the 2011 Echo Klassik awards. American soprano Robin Johannsen is known to opera buffs through her performance on a recent CD release of Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio," as is Russian vocalist Julia Novikova, seen and heard in a television production of Verdi's "Rigoletto." Rounding out the quartet of sopranos is Swiss-Belgian singer Chiara Skerat.

The mezzo-sopranos on the playbill are Marina Prudenskaya of Russia - celebrated at the Scala in Milan and at Berlin's two major opera houses - and Norwegian Ingeborg Gillebo, a regular at her homeland's National Opera. The male voices all come from Italy: tenors Roberto de Biasio and Andrea Carè - the latter a onetime student of Luciano Pavarotti -, and the baritons Davide Luciano and Luca Salsi.

In his final performance as the Bonn's general music director, Stefan Blunier will lead the city's Beethoven Orchestra and Opera Chorus. German parliamentary president Norbert Lammert will serve as patron of the event, and television host and author Bettina Böttinger is MC. The media partners are Bonn's "Generalanzeiger" newspaper and Deutsche Welle.

Eckart von Hirschhausen, Elisabeth Pott and Bettina Böttinger. Photo: Sebastian Zimer

To combat AIDS with humor, Eckart von Hirschhausen has fresh funds, joined by Elisabeth Pott and Bettina Böttinger

The threat continues

The immune deficiency epidemic is far from under control, said Elisabeth Pott. Although HIV-infected individuals in Germany constitute "only" 0.1 percent of the population, the number of new infections has been growing in recent years. The infection rate is far higher in eastern European countries, especially those where the issue remains stigmatized. In African countries like Mozambique, 10 percent of the population carries the virus that causes the still incurable disease.

The German AIDS Foundation is active there as well, for example by organizing treatment for pregnant women to prevent the transmission of the virus to their unborn children. Its main focus, however, remains on easing the burden for sufferers in Germany, offering a range of services from counseling to assisted living.

With public funds making up only one percent of the foundation's budget, it is funded mainly through contributions, benefit auctions and events such as the opera galas. These activities fall on fertile soil in Bonn, explained Ashok Sridharan: "The city pitches in, offering mainly moral support. But local citizens are also very energetic," said the city's mayor. "Especially people who really step forth - like the initiators, Mr. and Mr. Hartwig, and the sponsors."

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