Fandango, portrait of an opera workshop is a fun and heartwarming documentary directed by Manno Lanssens. It focuses on the charity of Operanauts and their opera workshop in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The film showcases the training journey and performances of its participants in the span of only a few days. Operanauts was founded in 2013 by opera performer and current workshop vocal coach Joy Bechtler, who wanted a way to bring comfort from the suffering and trauma that people from Congo may face.
In its 30-minute runtime, audiences can see how much effort was put in during training, with an eventual satisfying conclusion in a stellar final performance. This makes Fandango, portrait of an opera workshop, a solid and enjoyable documentary as we get to see their hard work pay off.
Not only do we see hard work, but we get to experience the passion of these singers and hear the stories on how they became interested in opera and why they love it. One participant, Eddy Lukau, even stated, “It has become like my life.” This is easily one of the most inspiring aspects of this documentary because we not only are able to get glimpses into their lives, but see why this truly matters, and how important performing is to them.
The talented singers shine in rehearsal throughout the film, with obvious strong vocals. However, we get to see them develop more of their acting skills and hone in on emotional expression. Bechtler helps them delve into the characterization from the story of the songs, taking their performance of “Fandango,” with music by Mozart, to the next level.
Operanauts’ success is catapulted and put at extremely high stakes when they are invited to perform at a prestigious hotel. It is here in the film when it’s established how crucial it is for them to impress in order to gain more traction. After a few days of rehearsal, the anticipated event arrives, and the singers perform a medley of classic, well-known opera songs. Although I was unfamiliar with the earlier songs shown, I think many will be able to recognize these, and gain even more of a personal connection to this film.
An aspect of this documentary that I not only noticed but wholeheartedly enjoyed while viewing, was how all the Operanauts were supportive of one another. It was a beautiful sight to see, to watch people come together and do things they love and to learn more in the process.
This documentary is not only an educational experience for the people on-screen but also off-screen, with us as the audience. We are able to learn about a creative organization with a cause in Congo, which is something most American audiences probably don’t learn about often. Without this documentary, I wouldn’t have known about Operanauts and their goals and I certainly would have known less about opera.
Opera, just like any other type of art, is an outlet for self-expression. Art can help heal and portray emotions that are hard to express. In Fandango, portrait of an opera workshop, art forms are encouraged and spread to the young population, which is something we’ll always need all over the world. This documentary is worth the watch because you’ll not only gain insight into an interesting topic, but you’ll also see the beautiful passion and talent come alive in front of your eyes.
Fandango, portrait of an opera workshop will be playing at the Fall 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Friday, September 8, 2023 – Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 7PM as part of a triple bill with Emily Goodchild experimental film To Understand An Anemone and John Evans and Ani Javian’s experimental dance film Breaking The Surface. Fandango Artistic Director Joy Bechtler will be at the in-person screening to do a Q+A. For more info and to buy tickets go here.