Gauteng Opera Open Day introduces Cula Mzansi

Graham Scott conducting while Marcus Desando directs the cast of Words from a Broken String during rehearsals at Gauteng Opera's Open Day
Graham Scott conducting while Marcus Desando directs the cast of Words from a Broken String during rehearsals at Gauteng Opera’s Open Day

Gauteng Opera invited JazzE and a number of journalists and guests to an open day where Chief Executive Officer of Gauteng Opera, Marcus Desando, took the opportunity to address all of the guests about the upcoming Cula Mzanzi, a trio of short operas of proudly South African stories.

The trio of opera’s comprises Words from a Broken String by Peter Klatzow, Tronkvoël by Martin Watt and Hani by Bongani Ndodana-Breen. The Gauteng Opera open day began with a chance to see the cast in rehearsal followed by a short introduction to the cast and team behind the production of Cula Mzansi. Some of the creative team working hard behind the scenes include directors Warona Seane, Tshepo Ratona and Marcus Desando assisted by Pretty Skosana and Bongani Nomcweya; award winning set and lighting designer Wilhelm Disbergen and Thoko Sidiya who is choreographing all three operas. The Gauteng Opera pianist, described as incredibly patient, Denzil Weale works with Graham Scott who will be conducting all three operas in this production.

The cast of Words from a Broken String during rehearsals at Gauteng Opera's Open Day
The cast of Words from a Broken String during rehearsals at Gauteng Opera’s Open Day

Marcus Desando describes Gauteng Opera as an ambitious opera company, constantly striving to better themselves by creating content that is exciting for South Africans, through the works of international composers like Verdi as well as local composers like Peter Klatzow and Bongani Ndodana-Breen. Gauteng Opera’s tag line of ‘Opera for Everyone’ expresses the company’s desire to tell stories that touch South Africans, using voice as a powerful medium to move people. Cula Mzansi is all about South Africans telling South African stories, but more important than telling the stories, celebrating them.

Gauteng Opera intends making Cula Mzansi a series of annual opera productions telling South African stories. The three short operas chosen for Cula Mzansi this year, were chosen because they have been tried and tested, commissioned and presented in 2010 by the University of Cape Town for their 110th anniversary celebrations.

Words from a Broken String by Peter Klatzow
The first of the 20 minute operas making up Cula Mzansi is composed by Peter Klatzow, an accomplished Cape Town based composer who is passionate about marimba. The opera tells the true story Lucy Catherine Lloyd who was the creator, along with Wilhelm Bleek, of the 19th-century archive of ǀXam and !Kung texts. The story tells of 4 members of the |Xam people who approached Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek to assist with the preservation of the |Xam language. Graham Scott, conductor of these operas described the magic of opening the scores of new work for the first time as being much like that of opening a new book. Scott describes the opera as fairly tonal but tuneful, with conservative tonality, and carried lyrically. This piece was written for strings and winds, with colour added through marimba and percussion.

Listen now: In rehearsal: Natalie Dickson, with Denzil Weale on piano, sings an aria from ‘Words From A Broken String’ by Peter Klatzow.  In this aria Lucy sings of three men in her life, her fiance who is dead and her only human love; Wilhelm Bleek her colleague and brother-in-law; and a |Xam man Kabbo who is a very strong character with a very strong connection to his spiritual side which Lucy Lloyd found very attractive.


Tronkvoël by Martin Watt
The second of the chosen operatic works is based on Breyten Breytenbach’s experiences in Pretoria Central Prison. Described by the director of this piece, Tshepo Ratona, as a beautiful story about both an incredible character and person. Ratona says that as South Africans we regularly hear of our black heroes, but we rarely hear stories told from this angle. He says that this story comes with “a sense of healing from this racial disease that this country is facing”. Breyten Breytenbach fought to liberate oppressed people with no consideration for their race, this piece portrays the harshness of prison life for political prisoners in apartheid era South Africa. The opera portrays a maccabre relatioship that Breytenbach developed with a tomato plant within the prison gallows. Tronkvoël is written for a small ensemble of strings. The music was described by Graham Scott as bleak, rather than aggressive and reflects the cold harshness of inhumane prison life for political prisoners in the 1970s.

Listen now: In rehearsal: An aria performed by Thamsanqa Khaba from the opera Tronkvoël by Martin Watt. This aria is almost a love song sung by Breyten Breytenbach to a tomato plant. Hond, the prison warder would pluck and share with Breytenbach a tomato from this plant whenever an inmate was put to death.


Hani by Bongani Ndodana-Breen (Libretto by Mfundi Vundla)
The opera Hani is the story of the invocation of the spirit of Chris Hani by a young writer, who on recalling meeting Chris Hani while in exile in Los Angeles enters a dream state. In this state he meets a Soothsayer, an ImBongi and a chorus of ancestors and they perform a ritual based on the famadihana or turning of the bones, a ritual performed in Madagascar. They perform this ritual to invoke the spirit of Chris Hani and call on his spirit to help address some of the concerns faced by South Africa some 17 years (at the time this opera was written) after his murder. Conductor Graham Scott describes Hani as having very complex cross rhythms, and extremely aggressive musical language. Scott describes the story as contrasting the music by being warm with language that keeps one “emotionally awake”. He went on to congratulate the team for having learnt the opera with the help of Marcus Desando and Denzil Weale.


These three short operas that comprise Cula Mzansi can be seen at Soweto Theatre from 7 to 9 August 2015. Bookings at Computicket.
Dates and times are as follows:
07 August 2015 at 20:00
08 August 2015 at 17:00
09 August 2015 at 15:00

Etienne Shardlow

Etienne Shardlow

Etienne is a proud lover of South African jazz, and host of the weekly JazzE Radio Show on Bakgat Radio. He works as an IT Service Management consultant and trainer.
Etienne Shardlow

Latest posts by Etienne Shardlow (see all)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here