Kerstan shares his passion for opera with community

Director helps prepare 'Mozart Reimagined'

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2005

German director Michael Kerstan grew up with opera. But when it came time for college, he turned away from the stage and studied education, politics, psychology and sociology.

He had earned his doctorate in cultural sciences from the University of Tubingen when he met composer Hans Werner Henze.

"He got me back into opera," said Kerstan, 49. "He showed me this idea of community operas, where operas are not made only for the rich, fancy people, but for everybody in a community, village or city."

Since 1983, Kerstan has directed, written and assisted with community theater and opera productions throughout Germany, Italy, Austria, France and the United States.

He was the public relations manager for Germany's world-famous Nuremberg Opera House from 1999 until September 2004, at which point he resigned to dedicate his time to freelance directing of operas and plays.

Kerstan has been in Juneau for most of February. He taught opera and acting workshops for Opera to GO! and has been working the company on its upcoming presentation of "Mozart Reimagined," opening March 4. He is also collaborating with CrossSound co-directors Stefan Hakenberg and Jocelyn Clark and Opera to GO! director Joyce Parry Moore on "The Children's Crusade," scheduled to run in September 2006 in Juneau.

"I like this town very much," Kerstan said. "The weather is not so different from German weather in February, and the cultural life in town is far more than I had ever expected."

"In Germany and Austria, a town of 30,000 people is more or less dead, except every Friday there might be a concert," he said. "Every day there is something going on here, and it's such a huge variety of things."

"The Children's Crusade" premiered a few years ago in Cologne, Germany. The opera chronicles the true story of two chidren's crusades in 1212, one in England where 12-year-old Stephan of Cloyes convinced 30,000 of his peers to march to Marseilles; another in Germany, where a boy named Stephen convinced 20,000 to take Jerusalem for Christ. Both crusades were spectacular failures.

Kerstan hopes to recruit 10 soloists and a choir for the presentation.

He met CrossSound co-founder Stefan Hakenberg more than 20 years ago. Hakenberg was a student of Hans Werner Henze. Kerstan was the assistant.

"We did a couple projects together, and we've gotten to know each other quite well," Kerstan said. "Each of us knows what he can expect from the other."

"I'm very interested in community opera projects that combine children and local people," he said. "Community operas get people involved in actual signing and acting on stage, and they give people confidence, even if they won't become professional singers."

Kerstan has a commission from the city of Salzburg to write a play for its Mozart Jubilee in 2006.

He's written four plays, "Merlin," "The Abraham Experiment," "Paradise Can Wait" and "My Fish and Me."

He has also recently written a biography about a Jewish woman, Bella Rosenkrantz, who was shuttled from Poland to Siberia by the Nazis and kept in a concentration camp for six years. She eventually returned to Frankfurt, her hometown, in 1961, after 23 years. The book will be released in Germany this spring.

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