Theatre review – Wagner opera drops anchor in Cape Town

2011-01-21 14:54

The audacity of staging Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman in Cape Town with a cast of amateur performers is not lost on master director Lara Bye.

“Daring is the word I would use,” she says with a wry smile.

But do not be fooled. The production is in great hands – first of all hers; then Kamal Khan, über-musician and conductor; the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra (all 54 members) and two great choral ensembles from Khayelitsha and Gugulethu who call themselves The Wagner Festival Choir.

The lead role of Senta is played by locally born soprano Nkosazana Dimande, flown here from Sweden, where she is based.

They are rehearsing in the Dutch Reformed Church Hall in Tamboerskloof and will perform at the former Nico Malan Opera House (now called Artscape), ironic if you consider the vast changes accomplished in our country.

American Gary Simpson will play The Dutchman after Ntobeko Rwanqa lost his voice in the recent production of Porgy and Bess.

The opera will be sung in the original German and is presented by the Richard Wagner Society. What Wagner, favourite composer of the Nazis, would think about this colourful production is anybody’s guess.

Packed with some of the most glorious music in opera including the two famous choruses, the Spinning Chorus and the Sailor’s Chorus, this is probably the most accessible of all Wagner’s work, dealing as it does with redemption through love.

The plot concerns a sea captain, doomed to sail the seas forever after cursing Satan. Only the love of a pure maiden can free him from his curse.

Bye has envisioned the mystical world of Wagner as a 1940s industrial island and has given it a hard, sharp edge.
She says her intention is to “transport audiences to an alien world, to delight them and then to scare them”.

She is not seeking a deeper social message in the plot and will let the theatrical side of the opera speak for itself.

Members of other Wagner societies internationally have been intrigued by this production and have made bookings to attend.

Capetonians, and those who can get here, are in for a rare treat.

But the enormous cost of mounting the opera means that the production will only be staged for two nights – January 27 and 29.

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