OPERAnauts envision a world where the transformative power of opera helps individuals and societies recover from violence and poverty.

Who We Are

A team of performing artists, artisans, and creative artists – including opera singers, musicians, dancers, photographers, videographers, journalists, and designers. We use creativity as a response to violence to gather together, inspire and give hope to Congolese people so that they may in turn help their own communities. OPERAnauts is upheld by student leaders who promote music as their own reply to violence.

The Vision

To create a sustainable, annual opera music festival in Congo that promotes peace and disrupts the cycle of violence.

How We Create Change

OPERAnauts’ mission is to bring opera to communities around the world, at the moment, Congo. Our process starts with collaboration with trained performing artists in Congo. Harnessing the talents of performing artists, OPERAnauts empowers in-country individuals to go and share in their communities, to spread their music which brings new focus to war-weary communities, allowing people to learn empathy and resilience and to regain hope.

The Goal

To empower musicians responding to their communities’ needs and to help create a sustainable annual opera music festival.
  • Create and support an Artist Residency of opera workshops, lectures and joint rehearsals
  • Provide Kinshasa residents and visitors with free, accessible, high-quality programming
  • Produce OPERAnauts’ Congo-inspired arrangement of the French opera, Carmen, in a 3,000-seat outdoor venue in Kinshasa

The Model

  • Develop and test operatic material in the U.S. for international collaboration and audiences
  • Test operatic material at international music festivals in developing countries
  • Develop and sustain an annual Congolese festival

The Story

A Song of Hope: An interview with Joy Bechtler, Founder of OPERAnauts Each morning of Joy Bechtler’s childhood, the local woodcutter would call out to her in song. She would race to the door to sing back in his Congolese dialect. Music has been part of her soul ever since. As the child of an American physician/missionary who chose to work in Congo, she and her siblings grew up as members of a close, caring community. Because there was no electricity, nighttime was filled with storytelling and singing while the heartbeat of the drums from other villages sending messages to one another murmured outside. Although there are over 250 languages in Congo, it was there that Joy discovered that music is the one language that transcends. Joy was a teenager when they returned to the states. Here Joy explored sacred and folk music until one of her professors recognized her outstanding vocal gifts and urged her to explore opera. It wasn’t just the power of the music that touched her so deeply, it was the fullness of the experience; the high drama, the timeless characters, the rich costumes and lavish sets. Singing opera transported her to the nights of singing and storytelling of Congo. Although Congo was not a bucolic place even then, the last dozen years have seen violence and war. And the cycle of violence shows no sign of abating. Joy Bechtler wanted to do something about it. So she went to what she knows, the incredible healing, transformational power of opera. She commissioned a new arrangement of Bizet’s powerful opera Carmen to highlight the arias and duets of the four major characters. She contacted Congolese seamstresses to build the costumes, and she reached out to her colleagues in New York, to locate a venue to premiere the piece before she would take the entire ensemble to Kinshasa, Congo. “Music is really this wonderful resource for us. What I find when I am overwhelmed with how choices that are being made for others over which we have no control and it seems like the higher powers and the strong men seem to be winning, that listening to or singing music transforms us and can lift us above it all. It is, quite simply, hope.” Ms. Bechtler has seen this transformation in person. Recently she was asked to sing for a dying woman. Within a few notes of Gershwin’s perky, I Got Rhythm, the seemingly comatose woman began to tap her fingers to the music. Bringing La Petite Carmen back to her beloved Congo is Joy Bechtler reaching out to the singing woodcutter with a song of hope. -Jane Oakley