The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic will contribute to showbiz history in Gauteng on April 28 – the acclaimed orchestra will be among the stars when the curtain rises on the world premiere of Winnie The Opera.
A stage work marking a unique and proudly South African collaboration between composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, award-winning film-maker Warren Wilensky and local producer Mfundi Vundla, Winnie The Opera will be presented at the SA State Theatre in Pretoria, until May 3.
It has been described as a spectacular show, focusing on the life story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela, as she is subpoenaed to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The singers and the KZNPO will be under the baton of German conductor Jonas Alber, who has conducted more than 500 operatic performances.
He was the youngest conductor in Germany to hold the position of general music director of the Staatstheater Braunschweig, when he was appointed in 1998, and has since conducted orchestras across the world.
Alber said he was delighted to be back in South Africa and looked forward to getting to work on the score of Winnie The Opera.
“The music by Bongani Ndodana-Breen is both dramatic and beautiful. The score precisely suits the mood of this important South African story and I am honoured to be part of telling it.”
Ndodana-Breen said he had long anticipated working with Alber: “We needed a conductor of Alber’s calibre to bring the spirit of the music alive and we are delighted to have him on board.”
The principal players in Winnie The Opera, directed by Shirley Jo Finney, will include Soweto-born soprano Tsakane Maswanganyi in the title role.
An internationally recognised classical soprano, Maswanganyi grew up in Giyani in Limpopo, where she started her career by singing in school choirs directed by her mother. In her final year at the University of Pretoria, she performed in the opera chorus at the State Theatre.
She made her professional opera debut with the Roodepoort City Opera, appearing as the Gräfin and Manja in Kalman’s Gräfin Mariza, and as Musetta in La Bohème.
She sang as the Gräfin Mariza again at the Breytenbach Theatre in Pretoria, where she also appeared as Arminda in La Finta Giardiniera, as Amelia in Amelia al Ballo, and as Valencienne in Die Lustige Witwe.
Her career blossomed, and she has since given recitals for Mandela and former president Thabo Mbeki.
She sang the role of Maria in West Side Story for Spier Opera Company, and helped form the internationally renowned UK-based “popera” group Amici Forever, which released two successful albums that acquired gold status in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Maswanganyi’s many other career highlights include performing the title role in Carmen Jones with the London Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall, and playing Bess in Porgy and Bess at the Cape Town Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Norwegian National Opera.
Her recent concerts have included the OperaEstate Festival Veneto with the Orchestra Filarmonia Veneta in Galliera Veneta, and concerts at Borso del Grappa, Cittadella and Lugo di Romagna.
Maswanganyi lives in Italy, where she is a student of mezzo soprano Nadiya Petrenko.
Winnie The Opera will also feature freelance opera singer Otto Maidi as Columbus, Winnie’s father. He gave a highly acclaimed performance as Joe in Show Boat for the Cape Town Opera, in Germany’s Nuremberg State Theatre, and has a prolific international career.
The role of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the TRC, will be filled in Winnie The Opera by Linda Zitha, who started his singing career in 1989 with a church choir that went on to tour Europe.
In 1994 he joined the Opera School at Pretoria Technikon. As a member of the ad hoc chorus at the State Theatre he sang in various productions and performed the baritone solo in the State Theatre Dance Company’s King Lear.
Zitha is the founder member of the Black Tie Ensemble, a multicultural group of classically trained opera singers.
In 2001, he sang the title role in Verdi’s Rigoletto for the Black Tie Ensemble’s first full-length opera production. He was the first opera singer to perform in Uganda for The Pearl of Africa Music Awards.
Pierre du Toit, who stars in the new opera as Winnie’s torturer, Major Theunis Swanepoel, started his career as a soloist and member of the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir.
He has sung a variety of repertoires, first as a baritone and later as a tenor, at prominent theatre venues.
He was the co-founder and artistic director of the Jo@ Opera Company for several years and has been a successful voice teacher for more than a decade.
Other soloists in the cast of Winnie The Opera are Queenstown-born Mlamli Lalapantsi as Jerry Richardson, Joburg-born Monika Voysey as the Baroness, and Kimberley-born Yollandi Nortjie as Zindzi.