An opera about Mandela, by his cousin

23.11.2013 Nomsa Mbatha auditioning for a part in Madiba the African Opera at the State Theater on Saturday. Picture: Etienne Creux

23.11.2013 Nomsa Mbatha auditioning for a part in Madiba the African Opera at the State Theater on Saturday. Picture: Etienne Creux

Published Nov 26, 2013


OPERA singers, aspiring members of the cast for theatre production Madiba, The African Opera, turned up in their numbers to audition for the lead roles at the Pretoria State Theatre over the weekend, kickstarting the musical which gives a glimpse into the life of Nelson Mandela outside the political sphere.

The stage production will feature little-known stories from Madiba’s life, starting from just before he was born, and through his life as a young boy growing up in rural Transkei, into his political life, prison and thereafter.

It is the brainchild of his cousin, theatre artist Unathi Mtirara, who wrote the libretto based on the history garnered from Madiba himself, and from his home.

“There is so much of him out there, yet there are little-known aspects of his background, history and upbringing that influenced the person he became,” said Mtirara, who is from the Tembu royal house in which Mandela was raised.

Panelists on Saturday included world-renowned conductor, orchestrator and composer Robert Maxym, tenor Sibusiso Njeza, music director Monty Manamela and Mtirara.

After listening to the 24 opera singers, they all agreed that although they did not give the nod to many who auditioned, they had identified a lot of talent from the city.

“We saw some amazing talent here today, and although not all of them were here for the lead roles, we did identify others we can use in other parts,” Mtirara said.

Maxym said his ear had been tuned to pick out the major soloists; three or four had impressed him.

He said: “For these major roles I wanted rendition that would make my hair stand on end, and I found that.”

The major roles include that of Mandela, his mother Nosekeni, members of the Tembu royal house, chiefs and others he encountered along his journey.

The talent that presented itself on Saturday ranged from the rudimentary to the mature and talented, Maxym said. The panel also looked for character and stage presence.

“We are happy and quite satisfied,” said Njeza, who will write the music. He said they were looking for fresh, young talent. “We are confident that the majority of our cast will not have been through formal opera school, but talent we will nurture and develop as we go along.”

Auditions will be taken to Cape Town on December 18, after which the auditions will be reviewed and finalised by December 20.

The production team is looking for a principal cast of 24 members, and 50 for the chorus: “This could be one the biggest productions to come out of the country,” Mtirara said.

An international media launch has been scheduled for Reconcilia-tion Day, and rehearsals are meant to start immediately after those who have made it are notified.

“In April we start rehearsing and plotting behind closed doors, and then on May 23, we raise the curtain on the production,” he said. That will be the opening of four nightly performances at the Pretoria State Theatre, which will be followed by a one-night show in Qunu, and another at Africa’s oldest opera house in Port Elizabeth. - Pretoria News


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