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Opera village

August 24, 2010

Building an opera house in the middle of the African desert was Christoph Schlingensief's biggest dream. Now that he has passed away, the opera project in Burkina Faso may be abandoned.

A computer-generated image of Christoph Schlingensief's planned opera village in Burkina Faso
Construction has just barely begun on the opera villageImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

In the African savannah, a good half-hour drive from the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, Christoph Schlingensief felt at home. It is a place surrounded by green fields, granite cliffs and gnarly baobab trees.

"When I was doing so badly, I told my wife, when things get really tough, we can come here with a suitcase full of pain pills," Schlingensief said in February of his African paradise. "I have the feeling that here I can give myself over to nature, to the motion of this world, without the pressure of the life I led in Berlin."

This was the place Schlingensief had chosen to build what he called an opera village. The village was to include an opera house, but also a school for theater and music, performance spaces and a clinic.

Now, after his death on August 21, Schlingensief's family is doing everything to make sure his vision becomes a reality. In his obituary, they requested that donations be made toward the opera village, instead of flowers or wreaths.

Christoph Schlingensief in a village in Burkina Faso
Christoph Schlingensief felt at home on the African savannahImage: picture alliance / dpa

Opera village planned as a legacy

The groundbreaking ceremony in the savannah of Burkina Faso took place in February but now, seven months later, little progress has been made and construction has come to a halt. Since the project's initiator has passed away, there is concern that it may be abandoned completely.

"Christoph Schlingensief was the motor behind the whole thing; the project lived from his aura, and from Christoph's desire to leave something behind after his death," said Ousmane Boundaone, director of a recognized dance school in Ouagadougou, who had worked closely together with the artist.

"We knew about his illness, but we had hoped that he wouldn't die so soon but would see everything work out," added Boundaone.

Schlingensief's enthusiasm was contagious and he had a way of easily winning support for his projects from artists, journalists, celebrities and high-ranking politicians alike. Former German President Horst Koehler and former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had backed the opera village, but both resigned over the past year and are no longer in office.

Mourning must happen first

Still, not all hope is lost for the opera village. Many in Schlingensief's circles expect the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to continue to lend its financial support and the Goethe-Institut has already guaranteed funding.

"Of course it's too early to say how things will develop. We first have to recover [from Schlingensief's death]," said Peter Anders, director of projects in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Goethe-Institut. "And we have to carefully define the points that make this project so exciting and extraordinary. I'm not afraid that that won't happen."

Nevertheless, one thing is certain: The opera village in Burkina Faso was a very personal matter for Schlingensief - and, as visionary, he cannot be replaced.

Computer-generated design of the opera house, by architect Francis Kere
The opera house, just one part of the opera village, was designed by architect Francis Kere of Burkina FasoImage: picture alliance / dpa

Author: Marc Dugge (kjb)

Editor: Eva Wutke