SA opera fit for international stage

Published Mar 14, 2012



OPERA: Ziyankomo and the Forbidden Fruit by Phelelani Mnomiya (composer) and Themba Msimang (libretto)


OPERATIC BOUQUET: Bravo Opera Africa, conceived and directed by Angelo Gobbato

CONDUCTOR: Timothy Myers

SET DESIGNS: Themi Venturas (Ziyankomo) and Stan Knight (Bravo Opera Africa)




PIANIST: Paul Ferreira

ORCHESTRA: Johannesburg Philharmonic

CHORUS: Opera Africa

CAST: Fikile Mvinjelwa, Kelebogile Boikanyo, Given Nkosi, Aubrey Lodewyk, Thembisile Twala, Goitsemang Lehobye, Caroline Modiba, Themba Maseko, Thando Zwane a.o.

This is the kind of production you would have wished the whole world could experience, and, if not, at least everyone in South Africa. It has often been said before: we have per capita some of the greatest young singers in the world.

This staging in two parts – the world premiere of Ziyankomo and the Forbidden Fruit, a newly commissioned opera by Phelelani Mnomiya and Themba Mnsimang, and the eight-part operatic bouquet Bravo Opera Africa celebrating the company’s 18th birthday – is a brilliant showcase of our post-apartheid, first generation opera singers. All of them are riding the crest of their individual artistic waves.

Ziyankomo, sung in Zulu, is historic. It has the kind of universal values which will stand the test of time. There are many interwoven themes in the text, like pride, forgive- ness, the law, and that royalty (implying government as well) must obey it, power which corrupts, and the question: shouldn’t ingrained customs leading to tragic conse- quences be constantly reconsidered and, if necessary, altered?

This is a finely chiselled ensemble opera with a basic love story and, at times, a playful irony. There is a kind of tragic ending, but it never bogs the listener down to the level where rituals take over.

The masks are intriguing. The singing, individually and in en- semble, is inspiring. Perhaps the only criticism that stands, is that the opera’s structure becomes a bit too obvious for comfort.

The cast is strong and each character is given the type of voice through which it comes alive. Mnomiya wrote some excellent music – more universally appealing than style specific, although some of his neo-classical passages in the lighter moments were delightful.

It’s sad that Ziyankomo’s orchestral parts were not ready, but Paul Ferreira’s piano accompaniment is top-notch. Now we know how easily it can tour.

Pure festivity is created by the legendary director Angelo Gobbato in the Bravo Opera Africa second half where eight fully staged ex- tracts from eight different operas – all amongst the crown jewels of Opera Africa’s repertoire – are presented.

From Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Princess Magogo, the tour through opera history also includes Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, Gounod’s Faust, Bizet’s Carmen, Puccini’s La Bohème and Rigoletto and La Traviata by Verdi.

Highlights? Each one of them is exactly that.

Baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa demonstrates in the I Pagliacci prologue exactly what extended overseas exposure can do to a singer who, like him, has reached New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Kelebogile Boikanyo, only 24, gives us a vocally enchanting jewel song from Faust which also bristles with youthful vigour. These two singers also pull out all dramatic stops in Rigoletto.

You can go on praising each extracts for its special merits, like the one from Magogo which this time made more dramatic sense than ever before, or the haunting, detailed realisation of the more extended scenes from La Bohème, Carmen and La Traviata.

Gobbato focuses on the core dramatic reach of each scene and makes it irresistibly alive. A time for celebration and champagne corks to pop.

• At the Opera, SA State Theatre, until Saturday. At the Joburg Theatre from March 23 to 31.

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