By João Luiz Sampaio
The cultural producer Flavia Furtado has her name closely associated with the Amazonas Opera Festival, where she has been working for two decades. In recent years, however, she has also acted in favor of reflecting on the world of opera in Brazil. A true ambassador of Latin American Opera in Brazil (OLA), she is also one of the directors of the Brazilian Forum of Opera, Dance and Concert Music, which celebrates its first year in May and seeks to identify common guidelines for the sector and articulate the creation of policies public for the world of classical music and opera.
“As a sector, we never participated in the creation of public policies and now we are working together with other forums, other areas, precisely to be part of this process,” she says, in the following interview, during which she reflects on the impacts of the pandemic in cultural activity, on the current government’s relationship with culture and on the possible ways to operate in a context of presentations marked by strict and necessary health safety protocols.
In March, we completed a pandemic year. It seems that we have reached the so-called “new normality”, with cultural activities that are opened or closed according to the pollution figures and the availability of beds in the health system. After that time, what is your assessment of the impact of the pandemic on Brazilian cultural life?
It is devastating, there is no other word. For all the arts, and especially for us, classical music and opera, because the crowd is an essential part of what we do, an orchestra, a choir, an opera house, a dance show. As they say, we were the first to close and we will be the last to return to reality before the pandemic. What we still see a lot is the search for smaller repertoires, re-orchestrations, chamber music. In the case of opera, there are examples that come from abroad, but there too, for every step forward, there are two or three behind. It is heartbreaking. And in the future it will be necessary to take into account the impossibility of touring, the least possibility of inviting foreign artists. A general restructuring will be necessary. Not to mention the discussion about the virtual. There is a consensus that the digital interface is here to stay. But how? It is a tool to take the audience to the concert hall, to the opera house. But to what extent does it work as a lure and how much does the audience make from the live show? The pandemic made us accelerate these discussions. And speed often leads to confusion.
The problem is also accelerating this debate on the relationship between digital and live at a time when there are no concerts or operas.
Exactly. Without face-to-face activities happening in a systematic way, you end up speeding up just digital, and this interferes with how the problem can be addressed. We have to skip steps to see later what happens, what was positive and what did not work. But I think that at least something good is happening in this period, which is the attempt to bring about the unification of the sector.
This leads me to the following question, in relation to the Forum of Opera, Dance and Concert Music, which this month celebrates a year of existence and seems, contrary to previous experiences, to gain strength.
It was a surprise to me. And it is what makes the Forum a source of hope and inspiration. As you said, it is not the first attempt to unite the sector, but it certainly worked, bringing together two hundred institutions from all over the country. I think every time we try to do that, and even though the initiatives went wrong, we always learned something. We use those past examples when creating different tactics and strategies. The forum has twenty directors, people who some time ago created a WhatsApp group to discuss what was happening. It’s crazy, but we understand that, in the first two years, everyone must participate in the constant search for consensus. And they are all people committed to the sector, who understand the need to put aside differences and think about common goals. It is a very cohesive, generous and collaborative board of directors. And what we already achieved was important. We discuss common guidelines, thinking about the long term. As a sector, we never participate in the creation of public policies and now we are working together with other forums, other areas, precisely to be part of this process. We are in dialogue with the political class, with the forum of state secretaries of culture, with the Ministry of Education, with the commissions of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. We are gaining weight. It is not an easy or quick job, but you must start now.
You mention creating long-term plans. The possibility of building actions for the future has to consider different aspects, education, management models, etc. Among them, what would be the fundamental point for less immediate planning?
In fact, there are several problems. And none of them can be debated without the union of the sector materializing. You can have good projects here and there, but they don’t necessarily mean a bigger vision of the area. In meetings that, years ago, I had at the Ministry of Culture, talking about the importance of opera as a sector, I always heard from them: public policies are created in dialogue with the entire sector. And I am excited about this search to add, to unite, perhaps because opera is that union of so much. I really like the work of Ópera Latinoamérica (OLA) and I had the opportunity to learn about the initiatives of Ópera América and Ópera Europa. What I learned from them was that the success of another project also helps with what I do. One state will feel more apt to invest in projects when it sees that they work in other states. And, for that very reason, the exchange of experiences and information is essential. Trinidad Zaldivar, from the Inter-American Development Bank, says that the 21st century is the century of networks. This allows the sector to articulate and speak clearly with society, including governments and the private sector. We arrived late to this perception, but at least we arrived with a significant body.
One of the flags that you defend is the creative economy. In a context of economic crisis and the search for growth recovery, do you think that this notion can be important when it comes to showing the relevance of culture?
I think so. But there is still a lot of fear of this idea, even within the cultural environment. And that, I think, is related to the way governments understand it.
For governments, it seems that talking about the creative economy is talking about looking for projects that pay for themselves, without public funds…
Exactly. But that’s because they read only the first page and ignored the rest. To speak of the creative economy is not to speak of market self-regulation, of exchanging state investment for private investment. Culture will never survive without the support of the state. Likewise, by emphasizing the economic importance of cultural activity, it is not a question of reducing the social or pedagogical question inherent in what we do. But, to justify what we do, we must use all the assets that we have at our disposal. And there is no shame on the economic issue. After two decades of the Amazonas Opera Festival, we already saw that this child was formed who went to see the opera in the square, playing in the orchestra, singing in the choir. But this is a long-term build, which doesn’t happen overnight. The economic issue, however, offers us figures and immediate situations that show the politician that, in four years, he will be able to use the investment in culture on his platform in the elections, with good labor results and return on investment. Another aspect has to do with the idea of orange buds. An orange has several buds, but they don’t mix. This means that an investment plan in culture cannot be the same as in other areas. Starting with the fact that an orchestra and an opera house are not profitable. Today there is consensus that, among the strategies for the fastest economic recovery in the post-pandemic world, culture is fundamental due to its ability to impact the local reality in generating employment, for example, quickly. In Brazil, however, this is not the case.
Today we live in a national context of marginalization of culture and total relativization of cultural activity, openly assumed by the federal government. How to think strategies for the sector in the midst of this reality?
It is the great challenge, to think of any future in a country that mistreats culture, does not understand it, does not understand its mechanisms. The Rouanet Law has existed for three decades and continues to be the target of ignorance and prejudice. And there are no interlocutors in the federal government with whom we can speak. For this reason, in the forum, we have opted for a conversation with the Legislature, seeking to think of ways to stop a little this mass of attacks, which comes in redundant and prejudiced statements.
The Rouanet Law, as you say, is one of the main objectives of the government. How will this attack affect cultural activity in the years to come?
It is already having a great impact and causing the closure of many sectors. The government has created barriers for projects that want to enter the system. The decision that only six projects can be analyzed per day, and therefore only six new ones can be proposed, reduced the number of projects by 80%. And there is another barrier. When the ministry creates priorities, as it just did, by focusing on virtual projects, it creates another bottleneck. Because a project is not done for fifteen days. An initiative that will happen in 2022 must be registered in 2021. And, if I can’t do that, I can’t be judged, approved, and I can’t get it. In addition, those who obtained sponsorship cannot use the money, which ends up being returned to the federal safe, and can be used in any area of public administration. In other words, it is not just the project that loses money. The entire cultural area loses funds.
Returning to the world of opera. The musicians in the pit, the choir, various soloists – all this seems unlikely within the sanitary needs we know today. For an orchestra, if they quit to work with a choir, they still have a vast repertoire at their disposal. In the case of opera, the opposite is true. Do you think we will need, before returning to the pre-pandemic reality, to completely rethink the repertoire of opera houses?
Yes, because I think it makes no sense to make the great titles of the repertoire in camera cuts. Artistically, it is much more interesting to look for alternatives. And they exist in the form of available chamber repertoires and also in real investment in contemporary music, in new titles that even dialogue with the current moment, which, by the way, is a function of artistic activity.
And do you think that the world of opera is ready for that, for an opera house in which the so-called great repertoire is left out?
No this. The world of opera has those people who think a lot in light of the avant-gardes, but also those for whom opera is the canonical repertoire. This is a universe very attached to the idea of repertoire. Therefore, it will be necessary for us to do an exercise in opening the mind. And I don’t know how much we are prepared for that. But I can say that a lot of thought has been given to this topic. In groups that bring together theater directors, it is a central theme. I can safely say that this has never been debated as much as today.
Thank you for the interview.
*Original interview on Revista Concerto