On December 12, 2022, Oper Frankfurt hosted a profoundly unique evening titled “Woman.Life.Freedom”. It was a benefit concert produced by countertenor Cameron Shahbazi in collaboration with Opera for Peace, raising funds for the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center of Human Rights in Iran (ABC), and brightening the international spotlight on a community battling unthinkable darkness. The evening was recorded and available for streaming on IDAGIO. It was recently moved to Deutsche Grammophon’s streaming platform STAGE+ where it will remain available around the world.
This special evening cleverly combined inspirational speeches poetry, video messages and, of course, beautiful music. In addition, the printed programme featured many letters and essays giving context to the situation in Iran and urging us all to pay attention and support those bravely fighting for freedom. Each contribution to the evening’s success was donated voluntarily — and there were many. In fact, we list most of the names of those involved simply to highlight the shared feeling of importance around this cause and their determination to take action.
The key speakers included Mr. Bernt Loebe, Intendant of Oper Frankfurt, Ms. Narges Eskandari-Grünberg, Mayor of Frankfurt, comedian and activist Ms. Enissa Amani, actress and activist Sepideh Moafi, Roya Boroumand, co-founder of the ABC, as well as the superstar harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.
The poetry readings were pre-recorded and seamlessly cast on thelarge backdrop of Oper Frankfurt’s main stage. The readers included soprano Barbara Hannigan, mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Dame Ann Murray KS, baritone Thomas Hampson KS and actress Jasmin Tabatabai.
“We performers can amuse, we can entertain — but more importantly for our own souls, we can inspire reflection, we can edify.” — and edify they did. These words were shared by Hera Heysang Park, Barbara Hannigan and Joyce DiDonato, who were joined by Julie Fuchs, Lucas and Arthur Jussen, Magdalena Kožená, Sydney Mancasola, Anna Pirozzi, Keri-Lynn Wilson Ambur Braid, Mahan Esfahani, Lilian Farahani and Cameron Shahbazi. The compilation video was skillfully created by director Joseph Paris.
The musical performances were certainly among the highlights of the evening. The programme gave a new and powerful context to some of the most famous arias in opera. There was also sublime chamber music and a piece for solo harpsichord and electronics by Iranian composer Anahita Abbasi. The participating artists included countertenor Cameron Shahbazi, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, cellist Kian Solatani, violist Micha Afkham, sopranos Kristine Opolais, Lilian Farahani, Ambur Braid, and Giulia Semenzato, mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus, flutist Azin Zahedi, percussionist Naghib Shanbehzadeh, pianists Jeff Cohen and Sophia Muñoz. The artists created Verbier-like pairings which began with a song celebrating a woman’s hair and ending with a beautiful Iranian Lullaby. As each artist finished performing, they would take a seat on stage, joining the evening as if we were all in the same kitchen or living room. This clever stage concept was delicately put together by the french opera director Pierre-Emmanuel Rousseau and was intimately lit by Gilles Gentner and Simon Hild.
“Our courage to be on stage, to give something of ourselves at our best moments, is nothing compared to the courage of the Iranian people who rise together to throw off the repressive evils they currently face.” These are just some of the words on a joint letter signed by over 50 artists, managers and industry leaders which was provided in the printed programme. Some of the names on this long list include violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, Anita Rachvelishvili, Jakub Jòzef Orliński and Rolando Villazón. In addition, there were solo letters from Cameron Shahbazi, Mahan Esfahani, Sir George Benjamin, Jon Gilhooly of the Wigmore Hall, Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari and the estate of famous jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.
At the end of the evening, all the artists joined together, lifting their hands up in peace signs. They were quickly joined by the audience, all on their feet, chanting “Azadi, azadi, azadi”, which means “freedom”. Donations to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center can be made here.