I always thought only old people liked opera. Yet there are certain opera pieces that are universally adored: ‘Nessum Dorma’ thanks to the 1990 World Cup, The Toreador Song from Carmen is sung – with other words – in the school playground, ‘O Sole Mio’ became the jingle for a famous ice cream advert, and there are plenty more that have transcribed themselves into the public consciousness.
Then there’s the hypnotic operatic voice which is held in awe across all society. Why else would wannabe opera singers do so well on talent shows? The few songs that we do recognise from operas have the power to give us goosebumps… or maybe simply a craving for ice cream… but we can all acknowledge there is an inescapable power there.
As Michael Williams, director of the Cape Town Opera puts it, opera is about ‘reminiscence’. Opera has an extraordinary ability to stir emotion and the more of the score we recognise, the more our emotions will be stirred. So the question is… why wait until we are old to start getting to know more opera? Given the line up planned by the CTO for 2012, I think it is high time that I, for one, tried a little bit harder to learn more.
First up is Beethoven’s Fidelio with a site-specific staging at the Castleof Good Hopein March. Such is the excitement around this event that it had its own press launch a few months back.
Then in May is Puccini’s La Bohème, billed as an irresistibly romantic portrait of Bohemian life in Paris. The Cape Town Opera is currently bursting with young talent, and one of its youngest stars, the 22 year old breathtakingly beautiful Siphamandla Yakupa gave us a chandelier-rattling aria from the character of Musetta from La Bohème. I didn’t recognise it, but I am certainly looking forward to recognising it next time.
The leads in La Bohème will be played by Nozuko Teto and Given Nkosi who return to South Africa fresh from studying with two of the greatest Italian singers of the 20th century, Mirella Feni and Renata Scotto. And as if that wasn’t enough, Matthew Wild is the director. Having just been blown away by his kung-fu production of The Comedy of Errors at Maynardville, I am full of anticipation to see what this young, fresh innovator can bring to a genre so often decried for its dull acting.
May also sees a performance from the American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, described by the Washington Times as “perhaps the finest bel canto tenor of our times’. He will be giving a gala concert of bel canto showpieces (virtuosic ‘display’ arias from early 19th century Italian composers such as Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti).
Then in early June the whole of CTO decamp to the UKfor another tour with Porgy and Bess, and a couple of performances of Michael Williams’ masterpiece, Mandela Trilogy. They are back in August with something completely different: Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, which will be performed at the Fugard Studio alongside a general introduction to Bernstein as a composer. Best known for compositions such as West Side Story, Bernstein is renowned for fusing jazz, classical and popular music and, according to head coach for CTO, Ean Smit, his students have taken to Bernstein’s style like ducks to water.
Matthew Wild will again be director for Trouble in Tahiti as well as the next offering: Mozart’s Così fan Tutte. The fact that Beethoven rejected it as immoral makes this opera all the more intriguing. Billed as ‘Mozart’s most sophisticated comedy’, the brief also describes ‘profound pain, betrayal and sadness’ as well as ‘sublime music’ and ‘exquisite arias’.
September, finally, brings Porgy and Bess toCape Town. This score by George and Ira Gershwin features long-time favourite songs such as ‘Summertime’ and ‘It ain’t necessarily so’. Christine Crouse’s production relocates the setting to 1970’sSoweto and, having read some of the reviews of the British Press, this sounds like one unmissable show.
The season is rounded of in November with Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. Most famous for Orpheus in the Underworld (which I know – hooray!) Tales of Hoffman is described asOffenbach’s crowning achievement’ and I was thrilled to recognise the duet of ‘Belle Nuit’. And when I say thrilled, I mean thrilled – that hair- prickling, vein-tingling enjoyment when the music seems to take control of one’s pulse.
I’m looking forward to more moments like that. I’m going to give this opera lark a good try.
The Cape Town Opera Season was launched on 18 January 2012. For exact details of each of the performances mentioned above, keep an eye on the WhatsoninCapeTown website.