For two performances only, the widely-travelled "Mandela Trilogy" will be flighted next week at the Artscape Theatre, joining in the centenary celebrations of our beloved Madiba.
The three-act opera takes the audience on a journey through Mandela's life. It highlights his youth in Qunu, his early adulthood in Sophiatown and incarceration on Robben Island, fusing traditional Xhosa music, jazz and contemporary classical music - all to what has been described as "electrifying effect".
Thato Machona, Musanete Sakupwanya and Aubrey Lodewyk star as Mandela with Philisa Sibeko and Siphamandla Yukupa sharing the role of Winnie Mandela. Acclaimed opera singer Cecilia Rangwanasha joins the cast as Mandela's mother and Fleur du Cap winner Edith Plaatjies (who won the award for her role in King Kong) makes her CTO debut as Dolly.
Playing Winnie - "The Mother of the Nation" has been a satisfying challenge according to the two actresses charged with the role. Both have an impressive list of playing key roles in a string of operas locally and abroad and have travelled with Mandela Trilogy to the UK, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Hong Kong and Dubai.
Sibeko comments she is extremely excited about performing it again at this significant time. "It's going to be so emotional for me - I was in Standard 3 when Mandela was released. The role of Winnie occurs in the second act - in Sophiatown - and shows how the two meet and things move really fast.
"There are some highly charged moments as I play the part when she visits Mandela in prison. We have a heated argument. In that scene he is not happy so she goes against him and they break away from each other and her her mind is filled with anger ..."
Sibeko adds, "There are many scenes where one cannot but be touched by acting out the situation portrayed. Every time I go offstage I am in tears - as we portray the police brutality, the separation, it brings all the pain through and the anger and even talking about it I'm feeling emotional."
Sibeko says as a mother she can naturally relate to Winnie and when she died, she mourned her as she carries such admiration for her. "She had the voice to express herself so clearly to everyone - she was so very bold - and that boldness I can relate to.
"As a woman she showed how to carry on and the legacy she left is enormous - she conquered and showed how she reached her goals."
Yukupa says it's a "huge honour" to play the role of Winnie. "She is such an iconic person. To portray such a powerful woman - aside from her political side she had such a powerful presence and transitioning from myself to being that powerful person is very interesting."
She continues, "I do find similarities with the younger Winnie in Act 2 - when she's in love and bubbly. It's the Winnie that has not yet been tortured - but when she has actually been through all of that she becomes a very hard woman - even the way she looks at Mandela - she changes. I had to really get out of myself for Act Three but there she really shows her strength."
Yukupa says the role is one of the most challenging she has had to play. "But dramatically it's my favourite - the duet with Mandela on Robben Island when she stands up for herself - I love that."
She adds that the opera is well received overseas but it's daunting to assess audience reaction when the opera digs deeper into the personalities."They are always interested to find out as South Africans how we perform but they are also interested to find out more about the person Madiba really was. Thus the Mandela Trilogy gives a better understanding of Mandela the man..."
CTO associate music director Tim Murray will again be leading the CTO through Peter Louis van Dijk and Mike Campbell's rousing score, which he has conducted in cities including London, Dubai, Ravenna and Hong Kong.
"The Mandela Trilogy" is on at the Artscape on Tuesday July 17 and Wednesday July 18. Tickets are available at Computicket.