Home-grown opera stars up for Winnie role

2011-01-08 19:00

The big question in opera circles is: who will sing the role of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the upcoming production, Winnie The Opera?

The opera will premiere in Pretoria in April, but the producers are yet to announce the singer who will step into Madikizela-Mandela’s shoes on the stage.

Samantha Bartlett, senior account director at Irvine Bartlett, says the cast for Winnie The Opera is “still a closely guarded secret until the end of the month”.

Making a choice could prove to be a difficult task for the directors, as there is no shortage of home-grown talent.

“It is a very exciting time. We have seen immense talent and interest emerging in this field,” says Sandra de Villiers, the chief executive of the production company, Opera Africa.

South Africa’s tradition of choral singing makes the transition to ­opera come naturally to our singers, De Villiers says.

Added to this is the importance of storytelling in African cultures, as it is in opera.

With soprano sensation Pretty Yende already wooing audiences as the first South African student at Accademia Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Theatre Academy) in Italy, ­experts have been lauding South ­Africa’s “depth of opera talent”.

British newspaper The Telegraph has called South Africa “a big new source of great young operatic ­voices”.

It mentions South African talent such as tenor Colin Lee, soprano Amanda Echalaz, baritone Jacques Imbrailo, bass Vuyani Mlinde, lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza and mezzo-soprano Teresa de Wit, who have stormed the world stage.

Matshikiza’s career is one to watch this year. She is an associate artist with the Classical Opera Company of the UK.

Another young talent, the 23-year-old Kelebogile Boikanyo, is the talk of the town, De Villiers says.

After last year’s master class in ­Italy she will be performing locally in Bizet’s Carmen at the State Theatre in March.

She stars with Spanish-Lebanese soprano Cristina Nassif in the title role and the sensational young American tenor, Noah Stewart, as Don Jose.

“We have much natural talent in this country and big voices that are needed in opera,” De Villiers says.

“But we also need to provide enough work for our singers locally to enable them to make a living.

“We are losing our best to overseas opera houses because we are not able to provide them with enough opportunities locally.”

De Villiers points out that opera singers in other countries perform worldwide, but their base is normally their country of origin.

“That is what we need to establish here,” she says. “And we are doing it by bringing opera to areas that ­traditionally had no ­exposure to it.”

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