IT’S A a cyclical thing believes Arnold Cloete who started as organiser with the Black Ties when Mimi Coertse and Neels Hansen first got this development opera company off the ground in the early ’90s.
In the meantime, there have been many transformations and battles hard fought to find funds but finally, Cloete has to concede that what has become Gauteng Opera is hanging by its fingernails.
It’s not all about money either. “I really hate waste and even if the Lotto should give us R10 million and the audiences aren’t there, what’s the point.” Giving it much thought and watching audiences dwindle from about 2007 and never picking up again, “I think it has a lot to do with technology,” says Cloete, also remarking on the fact that this past weekend’s Pinchas Zuckerman concert at Unisa wasn’t packed out. “If you can see his latest concert from anywhere in the world on your surround sound system at home on a huge screen while relaxing, why would you do it any other way?”
Those of us working in the arts understand the power of live performance but it doesn’t seem to have the impact attracting audiences as it did a decade ago. “If people want to see something nothing keeps them away,” argues Cloete, “not crime nor ticket prices.”
But still he scratches his head. Their current company which now consists of the chief executive Marcus Desando, himself (financial officer) and four singers including Khumbuzile Dhlamini (soprano), Annemarie Steenkamp (mezzo) and tenors Phenye Modiane and Kagiso Boroko have been touring Gauteng restaurants where they do dinner concerts which have been hugely popular. “Recently a woman sat crying right through the concert and said afterwards, she doesn’t know why but that’s how she was affected,” he says. And they feel blessed by the many who turn up and seem to enjoy the night’s entertainment, but it’s not enough to sustain the company.
He is as sharp in his praise of the Lotto as he is with his criticism. The things that probably bothers him most is again the lack of forethought. “We were given R15m to tour schools for a year which was wonderful work for our singers, but what did it mean for the scholars. It’s something you want to do over a period of a few years so that it’s not just a once off memory,” he argues. “That’s how you build both future singers and audiences. They have to feel the impact.”
It’s also a way forward for the company but not if it doesn’t benefit everyone all round in the long term. He argues that they have had to face the reality of the market out there. “Perhaps it’s the end for this moment in time,” he says as he talks about opera companies around the world closing their doors. “It’s not just a local issue,” he says. And he is distraught about the development singers who were part of the academy and who came from backgrounds as diverse as private schools or a shack in a squatter camp..
Now the company is in limbo with just the four singers still on the road. “I know this is cyclical,” he says refusing to take the cynical route. He also knows that as a company they have fought the honest fight. “It’s been tough since 2008,” he says and now he believes they should face reality. “Perhaps it’s just a generational thing and when all this newfound technology grows old, there will be a regeneration,” he says.
But they will keep knocking and trying until they can’t do any more. And if, like with their wondrous production of Cosi Fan Tutte a few years back, the audiences simply don’t turn up, there’s not much more they can do. The quality is there but if people don’t want what they have to offer, the curtains will have to come down. “We were going to do a full opera next year starring Pretty Yende because she hasn’t done opera in Gauteng,” he says. But like everything else, those plans had to be shelved.
IMPORTANT DATES TO DIARISE FOR FORTÉ
Friday, 12 at 7pm: Spring at Oak Leaf Restaurant, Sandton
Tuesday, 16 at 6pm Da Vinci Graduation dinner at Alexander Forbes, Sandton
Wednesday, 17 at 2pm: Da Vinci Graduation at the Linder Auditorium, Parktown
Wednesday, 17 at 7.30p,m: Singer's Choice Concert at La Trinita, Kayalami
Friday, 19 at 7.30pm: Andrew Lloyd Webber Concert at Laughing Chefs
Friday, 26 at 7pm: Andrew Lloyd Webber at Oak Leaf Restaurant, Sandton
Thursday, 9 at 2pm: Heartbeat of the Land performance at AARDKLOP in Potchefstroom.
Friday, 31 at 7.30pm: Music from the Movies Concert at Laughing Chefs
Saturday, 1 at 8pm: One Voice: An African Celebration – Drama Theatre
Sunday, 2 at 3pm: One Voice: An African Celebration – Drama Theatre
Friday, 21 at 7.30pm: Concert at Laughing Chefs
Friday, 28 at 8pm: A Christmas Concert at the Linder Auditorium
Saturday, 29 at 6.30pm: A Summer Christmas at Cedar Lakes.
Friday, 12 at 7.30pm: Christmas Concert at Laughing Chefs