Trio of Short Operas to Sing Proudly SA Stories

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Khumbuzile Dhlamini, Phenye Modiane and Kagiso Boroko of Gauteng Opera
Khumbuzile Dhlamini, Phenye Modiane and Kagiso Boroko of Gauteng Opera

This August, Gauteng Opera will present three short operas by leading South African composers at the Soweto Theatre, under the umbrella title Cula Mzansi.

From 7 to 9 August 2015, Gauteng’s most vibrant opera company will present three 20-minute contemporary operas: Words from a Broken String by Peter Klatzow, Tronkvoël by Martin Watt and Hani by Bongani Ndodana-Breen.

These semi-biographical operas tell the stories of linguist Lucy Lloyd, poet Breyten Breytenbach and slain politician Chris Hani, respectively.

The triple bill Cula Mzansi – literally meaning “sing South Africa” – is supported by the Nationl Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF).

The three short operas will be conducted by maestro Graham Scott and directed by Warona Seane, Tshepo Ratona and Marcus Desando, with set and lighting design by the multi-award-winning Wilhelm Disbergen. Desando, the CEO of Gauteng Opera, will also serve as chorus master.

Desando explains that Gauteng Opera decided to restage these three operas, which were produced a few years ago in Cape Town, because they “are very relevant to us as a country and will create a dialogue that we hope will lead to positivity”.

“South Africa has a lot to offer in terms of storytelling and we at Gauteng Opera have made it our mission to work and develop as many South Africans and their stories as possible,” says Desando.

Hence the title Cula Mzansi, he explains, as it refers to the operatic genre’s ability to tell stories vividly through music.

“Most importantly, we are working to bring opera to the people and so it is vital that we introduce our audiences to our own stories, to share our common and individual histories and what makes us all South African. These three operas all speak of people who were denied their birth right and freedom in their own country, and how they worked to come out on the other side.”

Phenye Modiane, Khumbuzile Dhlamini and Kagiso Boroko of Gauteng Opera
Phenye Modiane, Khumbuzile Dhlamini and Kagiso Boroko of Gauteng Opera

Cula Mzansi features the following three short operas:

  • Words from a Broken String, composed by Peter Klatzow with libretto by Michael Williams, will be directed by Marcus Desando.

Soloists including Natalie Dickson-Bath, Njabulo Mthimkhulu, Phenye Modiane, Kagiso Boroko, Thamsanqa Khaba and Sibusiso Shandu come together to tell the story of Lucy Lloyd, a 19-century linguist who started a relationship with San convicts brought to work on her garden, under the disapproving eye of her community and authorities.

  • Tronkvoël, a chamber opera by Martin Watt with Afrikaans libretto by Alwyn Roux, will be directed by Tshepo Ratona.

This opera features Sibusiso Shandu, Coert Grobbelaar, Kagiso Boroko and Elizabeth Lombard, and is set against the backdrop of 1970s apartheid South Africa, at Pretoria’s notorious C-Max prison. Writer and poet Breyten Breytenbach was imprisoned there for two years for high treason, just metres away from the gallows. It is here, in the shadow of death, that the images conjured from the grotesque sounds of suffering come to haunt him.

  • Hani, composed by Bongani Ndodana-Breen with libretto by Mfundi Vundla, will be directed by Warona Seane.

Featuring soloists Njabulo Mthimkhulu, Khumbuzile Dhlamini and Phenye Modiane, it depicts assassinated South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani as an embodiment of all those who lost their lives fighting injustice. It is set in the dead of night in the study of the writer, who recalls an encounter with Hani and enters a dream-like state, interacting with a soothsayer, a praise singer and a chorus of ancestors.

Performances of Cula Mzansi will take place on Friday 7 August at 20h00, Saturday 8 August at 17h00 and Sunday 9 August at 15h00.

Tickets cost R100, R150 and R180 at Computicket. The Soweto Theatre is located on the corner of Bolani Road and Bolani Link Road in Jabulani, next to the Jabulani Mall.

For more information, log on to www.gautengopera.org, visit Gauteng Opera’s Facebook page or follow @GautengOpera on Twitter.

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