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Soprano surprises with fabulous career

Published Jul 7, 2015


Magdalene Minnaar has a long history with the National Arts Festival (NAF), not only because she is a regular festino “just drinking in every possible show, so I know Grahamstown quite well, the Long Table and so on…”

She has performed at several festivals and remembers her first NAF performance when she stood next to violinist Ben Schoeman, the 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist for Music.

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As children they used to take violin lessons from the same teacher and she laughingly recalls said “old witch of a teacher” calling her mother to say she had no talent or future in music.

“Ironic, because that’s what I do,” the soprano smiled in an interview at the Beautiful Life Building on Bree Street where she was rehearsing for two forthcoming performances at the festival.


She named her company Biblioteek Productions because in an alternate universe she would be a librarian since she loves organising things – a trait that helps her with the administrative side of putting on productions with no producer.

Last year the 33-year-old presented a double bill with Magda de Vries for which they commissioned new works, which in hindsight was a crazy thing to do: “It was some of the hardest music both of us have done in our lives. We commissioned all these new works because we are over-ambitious and want to build the heritage of South African composition and the composers took it upon themselves to write really difficult music.

“Last year was crazy. My baby was 5 months old when I was asked to do Showboat. We travelled with Showboat, went to a few cities in the UK and in between I had to come back for Grahamstown. I did half of the tour, came back, picked up my baby and went to the UK to finish Showboat. It was quite insane.”

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Not as crazy as Waansin– a show created for Aardklop around the concept of “singing the mad scenes” from operas: “It was originally done for an Afrikaans festival so we chose the name. It just stuck.”

Directed by her favourite director, Jaco Bouwer, Waansin features links written by musical director Jose Dias between the five arias to create a bridge between the songs which come from different time periods and opera styles: “He composed them to be just long enough for me to get my breath back. It’s a bit mad. It’s not just taxing on the voice, but emotionally too because you have to jump into the madness that that person experiences at that time. Jaco and I found that there are many ways to go mad.

“It’s iconic music. Somehow I’m always being cast as the little ingenue, and I love playing the innocent 17-year-old, but it’s kind of nice to play someone on the brink of committing suicide or killing someone. There’s a a lot of meat in it.”

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Unfortunately, she won’t get to the (He)art of the Matter with the Best of Friends concert this year, because she is double booked since she is also presenting Waansin at that time.

She is also working with Dias on Nocturne, a programme of “night music” created for KKNK in a totally different spirit to Waansin.

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She and “musical partner in crime” Dias have previously presented this piece totally in the dark, the way they do for their In The Dark series, though for Grahamstown they will simply dim the lights.


Minnaar was heartened when performing it at KKNK to see the “ omies met hulle boepies” coming to watch: “My passion is to grow the classical audience, to show that you don’t have to be scared of classical music.


“Jose likes to say we have to give the audience some vegetables before dessert, so this Nocturne programme has dessert, obviously in the Moonlight Sonata. And I happen to like broccoli more than cake, so for my dad the Rachmaninov is the Brussels sprouts. And Strauss is heavy for some people. But I like that some omies ask me afterwards about the Carlyle Floyd,” she said.


l Waansin: Transnet Great Hall today and Nocturne: Beethoven Room, tomorrow and Thursday at NAF.

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