18-4-2011 Tsakane Mzwanganyi as Winnie in Winnie the Opera at the State Theatre Picture: Etienne Creux

Winnie the Opera premiers at the State Theatre on Thursday, appropriately a day after Freedom Day, and it will have a short run, ending on May 3.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela joins the extraordinary figures of history who are celebrated with the most formal and serious form of musical theatre, opera.

Think Opera Africa’s Princess Magogo, which paid tribute to the Zulu nation’s first female composer and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s late mother, Princess Constance Magogo ka Dinuzulu, and Cape Town Opera’s African Songbook: A Musical Tribute to Nelson Mandela which was created for the World Cup last year.

Madikizela was an obvious choice for the producers, who include internationally renowned South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, filmmaker Warren Wilensky and Generations creator Mfundi Vundla.

All Madikizela enthusiasts agree that hers is an untold story of humanity and of a flawed hero that is reflective of the human condition and could contribute to the country’s healing.

This common shared love for Madikizela inspired a collaboration between Ndodana-Breen and Wilensky in Canada, where they organised a festival workshop around Madikizela’s life.

This became the digital opera called The Passion of Winnie that was staged at the Luminato Festival in Toronto, Canada, in 2007.

Winnie the Opera is a new show and Vundla initially came on board as a major funder before the Department of Arts and Culture came on board. Together with Wilensky, they are the librettists for the production.

“For the past three years we have been building a community. It takes a community to do a production of this nature,” says Wilensky.

The show features the KwaZulu- Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, Shirley Jo Finney of the US as the director, conductor Jonas Alber of Germany and Tsakane Maswanganyi, as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, in association with Gauteng choristers and the Black Tie Ensemble.

Although it’s on for a short run, the producers are hoping for an extension and that the show gets to travel so the story of one of this country’s powerful woman is heard far and wide.