A historical first for South Africa and Africa hits the stage this week when a new gospel opera/musical, The African Passion premieres at the uMlazi Oasis Fellowship Centre in Durban.
The libretto is written by renowned writer/director Themi Venturas and the music is composed by award-winning gospel choral composer, Phelelani Mnomiya, Antony Govender (of Destiny Music) and the Young Mbazo – the grandchildren of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Tonight caught up with Dewaldt Von Solms (of the popular singing duo Von West) who appears as Pontius Pilate.
The musical also features Bonginkhosi “Faca” Kulu (The Lion King in New York) as Jesus, Natalia da Rocha (original Natasha in Jimbo) as his mother, Mary, Sharon Dee as Mary Magdalene, Grant Jacobs (recently seen in Man of La Mancha, Paper Boy) as Simon Peter, and Caitlin Kilburn (remembered for her stellar performance as Aldonza in Man of La Mancha) as Pilate’s wife, Blessing Xaba (seen as Fatty in the movie Spud) as Caiaphas, Aubrey Lodewyk (last seen in Handel’s Messiah and the Mandela Trilogy) as Annas and a host of other superb singers, featuring the isicathamiya group Young Mbazo.
Although he’s never played the part before, Von Solms explained that growing up in the church, with his mother being the church organist, meant this story was very much a part of his life.
“Pilate is actually such a lovely character to portray because he is actually a nice guy but he is forced to be that dominating figure as a leader.
“In a duet between Pilate and his wife (in the show) you get to see the softer side of him. It has been nice being part of the development of a character,” he said, adding that there is a constant conflict of character within Pilate and that he hoped the audience would feel this.
The tenor said working on African Passion had been interesting because he almost had to learn how to sing high notes with- out singing them in opera.
“Some parts of the musical are very jazzy, some are opera, some isicathamiya, some South African gospel… so it has been challenging forgetting all my operatic work and focusing more on these fusions.
“In a way this is similar to my work with VonWest where Pieter West and I change our voices to meet the fusion between the genres of rock and opera.
“It is brilliant the way the different genres have been fused into the show. Every piece in the whole musical will touch the audience whether they are fans of gospel, jazz, opera or isicathamiya,” he said.
Commenting on the biggest challenge in doing African Passion, Von Solms said it was in bringing out the emotion of this story.
“The great part about working with Themi Venturas is that he is in tune with the arts and he does his homework. By the time he gets on stage he knows as a director and a producer exactly what he wants.
“In rehearsals every day there is someone who cries on stage and this shows the emotional power that this story holds. It is an amazing musical,” Von Solms said.
lAfrican Passion runs at the uMlazi Oasis Fellowship Centre, Durban, March 14 to 17 ; the Port Elizabeth Opera House, March 21 to 24; Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, March 28 to 31; Soweto Theatre in Joburg, April 5 to 7; Joburg Theatre April 11 to 14; Mmabatho Civic Centre, Mafikeng, April 18 to 21; City Hall, Durban, April 26 to 28 (to be confirmed).
Bookings are at Computicket throughout the country except for the Joburg Theatre run, where booking is through their call centre at 0861 670 670.
WIN! WIN! WIN!
Ten Daily News readers can each win double tickets to the opening night of African Passions at uMlazi. To enter, SMS “African DN” and your name to 33963 before 9am tomorrow. SMSes cost R1.50 and winners will be contacted by telephone.