A very expensive view

2009-11-20 00:00

SO, I get this invitation — very glossy, very smart, very, you know, “welcome drinks, followed by light snacks, followed by speeches, followed by concert, followed by supper, followed by more concert”. I sort of knew it was going to be “popular”, so I didn’t take the instruction to wear smart clothes terribly seriously.

Parking was a bit chaotic — we were asked, in the middle of the street (before being requested to do a U-turn away from the site that was shown on the invite for parking), whether or not we were VIPs. Security was hardly tight.

The outside of the Greenpoint Stadium, now almost complete, looks like a large Afro-chic hat. The inside looks very much, to me, well, like a stadium. There is a green patch of grass in the centre, seats and a great halo of open space above you. The one thing that caught my eye was the grey colour of the seats. There are lighter and darker shades — randomly spaced, giving the impression of mother-of-pearl or the inside of a shell. Of course, the entire effect would be lost if the stadium was full — but I thought it was quite a clever and classy touch. (For almost R5 billion, the very least I would expect was a nice touch, here and there.)

The speeches were as one would expect — everyone praising everyone who had anything to do with the construction of the stadium. The premier, Helen Zille, gave a rabble-rousing speech, preceded by one that was less engaging by the mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato.

Then on to the concert. Now, before I say anything, let me say how much I genuinely admire Richard Cock, the conductor. He is an extremely humble man and one who certainly knows how to bring music to the people. I don’t think he is a great conductor, but he is a musical populist supreme. And a gentle human being. He knows what buttons to press among the musically uneducated and he really manages to get a real rapport with them. This is a good thing, but I do have a slight problem with the actual level of musicality he seems content to allow in his efforts to do so.

Nevertheless, we started with what he called the Fifa theme. Apparently­ this is a piece of music owned by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa). Needless to say, the Fifa theme was awful. Dreary, tub-thumping crashes and bangs which sounded not unlike the theme from Dallas.

Then we had the “Twenty Tenors” (Get it? Twenty Tenors?). Well, we had 12 of them, because due to the fact that the stadium costs have ballooned (from R1,8 billion to a mere R5 billion, in the space of three years), apparently the budget for the roof wetting needed to be somewhat limited. The singing was mediocre. But, and here is something worth noting, at least they were mostly black. They stood in the sharpest contrast to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, blindingly white.

And then, there was a group called the Sterling Electric Quartet. It consisted of four women playing an electric cello, violin, viola and flute. They wore dresses the size of serviettes and seemed to be doing practice moves for the filming of the female part to the Kamasutra. The audience loved them. Cameras flashed. Men approved. It was a bit like watching porn with strangely shaped musical instruments.

My overall impression was one of sadness. Not at the kind of music the majority of the crowd seemed more than content to endure, but at the fact that this huge stadium can really only be used for three things: soccer, rugby and concerts. No athletics. No cricket. Perhaps the occasional boxing match, who knows?

It has no athletics track because when the price was thought to be R1,8 billion, it was thought to be too much, so the size of the stadium was reduced to exclude a track.

And sad, because I don’t buy the argument that the stadium is in the right place. Greenpoint Common is not a central point for Cape Town and nor is it, in my opinion, a developmental node. It will simply benefit the already rich of the area, who are mostly white. I have listened to all the arguments over the years and I have to say that I just don’t buy them. The reason why the stadium was put where it is, was quite simply because that is where Fifa wanted it to be. And Fifa wanted it there for the view of Table Mountain.

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