The Sahel Opera Project

An African Opera production 'Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera' initiated by the Prince Claus Fund premiered in Africa and Europe in 2007
The Sahel Opera Project

"The story is told with humour, poetry and passion"


Bintou Were a great success in Théatre du Châtelet in Paris

Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera was performed in Théatre du Châtelet in Paris on 25, 26 and 27 October 2007.

European premiere of Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera During the Holland Festival, June 7,8, 9 & 10

Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera had its European premiere during the Holland Festival and practically sold out all performances in the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ in Amsterdam on 7,8,9, and 10 June 2007.

The Story

The story of the Bintou-Were, a Sahel Opera is a familiar one in West Africa. Young people in a village with no job prospects, drought, a failing harvest and a human smuggler who offers them the dream of a better life across the barbed wire that marks the border of North Africa and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. This time the story is told – or rather sung - from an African point of view. It’s told with humour, poetry and passion. And that was exactly what Prince Claus had in mind when he first proposed the idea of a Sahel Opera in 1996 to Els van der Plas, Director of the Fund that was being set up in the Prince’s name.

An extraordinary idea

Prince Claus believed in the wealth of musical and artistic talent in that vast, largely arid stretch of central-west Africa. He envisaged a spectacle of such quality and originality that it would win the hearts of people throughout the world. The idea was extraordinary. Africans and Europeans alike were struck by it. The project would be a uniquely African production, drawing on different cultures from throughout the region. A competition was organised and an international jury including such renowned figures as Pierre Audi, Director of the Holland Festival, and Robert Wilson from New York made an initial selection of six composers. Eventually the field was narrowed to one; Zé Manel from Guinea Bissau, who took on the formidable task of composing an opera drawing on the many Sahelian musical traditions. An artistic team was also selected and a series of workshops were held to help shape the storyline, the music and dance.

Partners join in

The Government of Mali and Théatre du Châtelet in Paris joined the Fund as co-producers. Additional financial support came from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, the Van den Ende Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Tryouts for the cast took place in Guinee Konakry, Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Ultimately, an international cast consisting of 58 singers and dancers was chosen. The sudden death in October 2006 of Production Coordinator Michel Mavros, who was also the husband of costume designer Oumou Sy, was a great setback to the production, originally scheduled before the end of that year. Read the message from the Director, Els van der Plas

Premieres in Africa and Europe

The premiere of the opera was rescheduled for February 17th, a fortuitous date, which happened to be the 400th anniversary of the first opera performed in Europe, Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Bintou Were premiered in Bamako, on a specially built stage overlooking the Niger River. In attendance were an estimated 2,000 invited guests, including both Honorary Chairmen of the Prince Claus Fund, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Friso and Prince Constantijn, accompanied by their wives Princess Mabel and Princess Laurentien, as well as Malian Prime Minister Ousmane Issoufi Maïga and Minister of Culture, Cheikh Oumar Sissoko, various Ministers of the Malian Government along with Board Members from the Prince Claus Fund and the Sahel Opera Foundation, the general manager of the National Postcode Lottery and many representatives of the diplomatic community.

Dutch Postcode Lottery and other partners support Sahel Opera

The Dutch Postcode Lottery donated Euro 1,5 million to enable the Prince Claus Fund to realize the production of the Sahel Opera. The Postcode Code Lottery is convinced that culture and development are inextricably interlinked. Culture can contribute to positive changes for people and communities. For this reason, the Prince Claus Fund has been one of the 25 beneficiaries of the Lottery since 2001 and has received financial support every year. The lottery, which is the largest charity lottery in The Netherlands, contributes 50 percent of its annual profit to carefully selected aid organizations and charities. In addition to the Postcode Code Lottery, the Sahel Opera has received financial support from HGIS, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands Embassy in Mali, the VandenEnde Foundation and Ford Foundation.


Review word - 0.02 MB

Sahel Opera in Paris


Holland Festival pdf - 0.57 MB

Flyer (English)

Grants & Collaborations

view programme

The Grants & Collaborations programme supports innovative, high quality cultural activities in spaces where resources and opportunities for cultural expression, creative production and research are limited. Annually, the Prince Claus Fund issues two targeted calls to support cultural initiatives in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Sahel Opera Project


The Sahel Opera Project

An African Opera production 'Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera' initiated by the Prince Claus Fund premiered in Africa and Europe in 2007