There is no symphony orchestra here. For this third and final act of the opera "Never in Our Image", designed by artist Stephanie Mercedes, the notes come straight out of metal objects, gongs or bells produced from revolvers, pistols or assault rifles.

These weapons were transformed before the eyes of the spectators, first nibbled by the sparks of hacksaws during the first act, then engulfed by the flames of blowtorches and metal furnaces.

"These guns that have caused so much destruction and pain around the world and in this country are transformed into something beautiful," soprano singer Fairouz Foty told AFP at a rehearsal in the US capital.

The "blobs" to which they gave birth - as the musicians affectionately call them - are struck like percussion or rubbed with bows.

Dressed in black, the troupe plays in this last part a requiem: that of a world of violence, before showing the joy and freedom of a universe without it.

Stephanie Mercedes, a Latin American LGBT+ artist, began working with guns after the 2016 Orlando shooting, which left 49 dead at a gay club in the southeastern city, the worst homophobic mass shooting in U.S. history.

"Most people, especially in the queer, trans or non-binary community, live in daily fear of guns," laments the artist, seven years after the tragedy. "It's something that affects our whole life."

Music emanating from atypical instruments, made from firearms, on stage on September 9, 2023 in Washington © Stefani Reynolds / AFP

"It gives hope"

So, to fight this violence in her own way, Stephanie Mercedes focuses on transforming these objects of terror into works of art, a process she now exposes in this opera performed by LGBTQ+ artists.

"We're trying to create a space for catharsis, for a ritual in which people can grieve ... and feel the pleasure of destroying and transforming these violent objects into something more human," she explains.

"Each of us has a story involving firearms," says Fairouz Foty about the singers, dancers and musicians on stage, "it is unfortunately something very present."

In "Never in Our Image", musicians play atypical instruments, made from firearms © Stefani Reynolds / AFP

Under the expert hands of Stephanie Mercedes, AR-15s - semi-automatic rifles used in many shootings - and old pistols liquefy with disconcerting ease.

"I didn't even know you could melt a gun," laughs George Jordan, who came to attend the first public performance.

"It gives hope," smiles the fifty-year-old. "If they can change the metal, maybe as a society we can change things," he hopes.

To fight gun violence in her own way, Stephanie Mercedes strives to transform these objects of terror into works of art © Stefani Reynolds / AFP

But this transformation is not to everyone's taste, especially in the United States where the issue of firearms is tearing society apart. The artist explains that she has been "much harassed by the far right" on social networks.

"It was very clear, very extreme and very aggressive," she said. A reaction she says she understands: "I think people are deeply frightened by the idea of melting weapons, because it is such an important and symbolic notion of their own identity and the idea they have of this country."

However, recalls the artist, even metal is not immutable: "Historically, guns and cannons were transformed into bells for churches" in peacetime. Something to inspire other transformations, she hopes.

© 2023 AFP