In my experience the story provides the core of an opera’s success. In particular, the lead character must mean something to us. In this regard The Mandela Trilogy is already on to a winner – everyone knows the story of Mandela and there is hardly a more loved man on the planet today.
But I can’t help feeling a little too much was taken for granted. Admittedly it is a massive story, hence – presumably – the decision to break it up into a trilogy examining the three phases of his life: young boy into manhood, political activist to prisoner and prisoner to president. Nonetheless I felt that the gaps led to a certain disjointedness of the whole. I found myself missing the answers to various questions: What provoked Mandela? What were the obstacles in his way? What is his personal story? I rather felt that I was expected to love the experience simply because I love Mandela.
But the disjointedness was perhaps exaggerated by the set, the changes of which required rather too much movement on stage. The quality of the lighting and the set design itself was stylized and beautiful to the degree that it almost upstaged the action. Mandela’s cell for example was captured in a cool three dimensional box design. It appeared as though everything had been painted but then there’d be a life-size table to bring the whole picture to life.
A different singer took the role of Mandela for each part of the Trilogy – slightly confusing at first but it proved to be a good choice not least as the growing maturity and wisdom of the man was reflected in his deepening voice. The casting was ultra-luxurious; with lead roles taken by multiple award-winning singer and recording artist, Gloria Bosman, actor, dancer and singer Aubrey Poo and baritone, Aubrey Lodewyk, it was an utter pleasure to hear so much elegant, yet characterful singing.
The title of trilogy also reflects the threefold music: opera, Sophia-town Jazz and traditional Xhosa songs. The musical director did a superb job on this and the opera singers in particular were outstanding, giving me goose bumps more than once. I could’ve quite happily closed my eyes for the two hours and soaked up just the music. Bear that in mind if you missed the show, and keep your eyes out for the CD…
Nelson Mandela’s story is one that inspires us all. The Mandela Trilogy is on route to do so too. This experimental and original piece of work is a gem in the making.
Cape Town Opera’s The Mandela Trilogy runs at the Playhouse Theatre in Durban 29 & 30 July 2011 and in Johannesburg at The Teatro at Montecasino 13 – 19 August 2011.