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Cula Mzansi: 3:20 min South African Operas

Aug 7th 2015 @ 8:00 am - Aug 9th 2015 @ 5:00 pm

Cula Mzansi - South African Operas

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Composer: Bongani Ndodana – Breen; Peter Klatzow; Martin Watt

Librettists: Mfundi Mvundla; Michael Williams; Alwyn Roux

Venue: Soweto Theatre, Johannesburg

Dates and times: 07 (20:00), 08 (17:00), 09 (15:00)

Duration: 1 hour 10 min


With the rise of Opera singers and international fame of South African singers, it has become very important that Gauteng Opera and other South African commit ourselves to also creating Operas that will speak to us as a people and country. with this in mind Gauteng Opera has committed this move as part of the mission statement moving forward. Cula Mzansi is a beginning of a wonderful series which will be called “Cula Mzansi – New Opera Series” this will mean that we will be pursuing the creation of a new opera every year in Gauteng and hopefully share with the world our wonderful stories. Our CEO Marcus Desando chose to start this series with operas that have already been performed once before in Cape Town as an introduction and with this great creative team, we are looking forward to a great run.



The opera uses the slain anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani as an embodiment of all those who lost their lives fighting injustice. Hani came from humble roots, gave his life to the struggle, was a revered leader in exile who courageously led a group of freedom fighters across the crocodile infested waters of the Zambezi. His assassination in his driveway by right wing extremists put the country on the precipice of civil war and was the crucial factor that got all parties to commit to a firm date for the first democratic elections.


The opera has 3 solo characters and a chorus. It is set in the dead of the night in the study of a writer (The Librettist) who, in an extended monologue recalls his personal encounter with Hani while in exile in Los Angeles. The writer enters a dream-like state where he encounters a Soothsayer, an ImBongi (a praise singer) and a chorus of ancestors. Woven in with this metaphor of bravery, sacrifice (Hani), the libretto compares the Masses in our young democracy to the Panther in Rilke’s poem – powerful yet paralyzed.


We are finally asked by the voice of the Soothsayer to reenact an ancient ritual, the Famadihana ceremony of the Merino and Betsileo people of Madagascar, where the corpses of the Razana (ancestors) are removed from their tombs, cleaned and wrapped in a new shroud before becoming guests of honour at a party that may last several days. This, the people believe, will keep the powerful ancestors happy so that they will intervene positively in the earthly life of the family.



Die libretto speel teen die agtergrond van die Apartheidstaat in Suid-Afrika (1975-1977) in Sentrale Gevangenis, Maksimum Afdeling, Pretoria, af. Hierdie is die gevangenis waarin Breyten Breytenbach die eerste twee jaar van sy gevangeneskap deurgebring het. Breytenbach se tronksel was ongeveer vyftien treë vanaf die galg gesitueer.



Hy noem dat hy ál die gruwelike tonele wat in die gevangenis afgespeel het, as ‘t ware met sy ore kon sien; die gesingery van die ter dood veroordeeldes (hulle sou twee weke voor hul teregstelling in kennis gestel word van die dag waarop hulle gehang word en het dan dag én nag gesing asof hulle bedwelm is), die gehuil van die vroue en kinders die oggend van ‘n teregstelling, die staaldeure wat in die gange oopgemaak word en die veroordeelde wat hierdeur na die slagpale gelei is, die bulderende stemme van die tronkbewaarders, die stemme van die ander bandiete wat freedom songs sing, en met blikbekers en –borde teen die tralies van die tronk kap.



Tronkvoël is inspired by an event that occurred during the imprisonment of the South African poet, painter, and freedom fighter, Breyten Breytenbach in Pretoria Central. This event is best illustrated by Breytenbach’s own words, in the interview titled “I am not an Afrikaner any more”. This was the first interview he consented to, after regaining his freedom in 1983:



The opera attempts to put on show this sequence of events against the backdrop of struggle for freedom, for the majority of South Africans the apartheid regime. André Brink comments that Breytenbach has become a symbol of resistance to oppression, and that he has given new hope to many Africans, Coloureds and Indians because of his marriage (to Yolanda Vietnamese girl) and his convictions. Breytenbach’s prison poetry voices his own circumstances, as well as those of the oppressed in his country. By combining his poetry with the universal language of music (from African, European, and Asian origins alike), this opera is an endeavour to relate to people universally, who endure the misgivings of humanity and the world, as such


Words from a broken string

Tells the story of Lucy Lloyd, the nineteenth century linguist, who with her brother-in-law Wilhelm Bleek recorded the now extinct language of the San Bushmen. The opera relates the relationship that Lucy forms with convicted San men who are brought to her house to tend to the garden by a Constable. The constable is not approving of the bond that Lucy forms with one particular San man by the name of Kabbo who eventually escape while in the care of Lucy Lloyd.


Production team:


graham scottGraham Scott, after studying conducting with David Tidboald in Cape Town, conducted opera and musicals for CAPAB and then spent five years in London with the National Theatre, the Chelsea Opera, the Royal Ballet School and commercial television. In 1985 he return to South Africa as Resident Conductor of the Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban and was in addition Music Director of the NAPAC Department of Musical Theatre.


In May 1998 he was appointed Artistic Director of the New Arts Philharmonic Orchestra Pretoria at the State Theatre. Since the dissolution of the orchestra he has returned to his freelance career. He has been Music Director of more than 60 musicals and has conducted countless opera and ballet seasons for all the main theatres in the country.


His association with The Black Ensemble has blossomed into his becoming Resident Conductor for the company. Highlights have been the Valentines Enchantment concerts and the annual Opera Galas. In 2004 he conducted the fully staged production of La Bohème with The Black Tie Ensemble and earlier in 2005 the innovative season of Gianni Schicchi and The Barber Of Seville. At the Spier Festival in March 2005 he collaborated on the world premiere season of Tomas Rajna’s opera, Valley Song, based on the Athol Fugard play.


He holds a Nederburg Opera prize, 5 Vita awards and a Gold Lourie for his work on the World Summit. He has served as an Advisory Panel member of the National Arts Council and is a Board member of STTEP. His TV recordings include an award winning Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale.

Warona-SeaneWarona Seane is a South African actress who has appeared in numerous television shows, films, short films and theatrical productions. Her biggest role to date was the lead, Dineo Nkgato, in the SABC2 drama series 90 Plein Street, which aired on the channel from 2007-2012. Seane achieved a Performers Certificate at Trinity College through the Cape Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1995, and graduated from the University of Cape Town’s drama school with a Performer’s Diploma in Speech & Drama in 1999.


Seane’s role in 90 Plein Street was her first appearance as a main credited cast member of a show. She has made appearances in the following television shows: Issues Of Faith; Big Okes; Scoop Schoombie; Madam & Eve; SOS; The Lab; Justice For All. She has also appeared in the short films Constant K (1997) and Kap An Driver (1998), and had a minor role in the 2004 feature film Country Of My Skull.


She has had leading and supporting roles in numerous theatre productions, including Romeo & Juliet, Sacred Thorn, Symbol of Sex & State (directed by Pieter-Dirk Uys), The Alchemist’s Heart, Nothing But The Truth for Janice Honeyman, and Nongogo, directed by John Matshikiza. She also has a starring role as Lulama, Jazzman’s attractive, confident, bitchy and manipulative mistress, in the Mzansi Magic soap opera Zabalaza.

tshepo-kTshepo Ratona (25) is the Artistic Director and a drama lecture at the NATIONAL THEATRE AND FILM ACADEMY. Tshepo was born and bred in the North West province (Goedgevonden).


Upon completing his studies at MMABANA MMABATHO, He came to Gauteng, where he began his work as a theatre director, some of his work includes MARIKANA -THE MUSICAL, (assistant director), INTERRACIAL (written by Aubrey Sekhabi and Paul Grootboom), MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN written by Betolt Brecht, TRONKVOEL (libretto by martin watt), Tshepo also wrote plays like THE MOVEMENT, THE INFIDEL, THE EXPORT and INN TIME, He has also written and directed industrial theatres for different companies and government departments such as DTI (HIV campaign), DCS (change management) and has also appeared in productions like SOME MOTHER’S SONS written BY MAAK VAN GRAAN and THE THRONE written by MARTIN KOBOEKAE, and MASAIKATEGANG A MAGODIMO which was adapted by MPUMELELO PAUL GROOTBOOM and directed by DANNY JASSON.


In Tshepo’s years as a drama lecture he has mentored the success of many young writers, directors and actors whom have now become well-established artists and have done professional works both in theatre and television, to date Tshepo is the Artistic Director at THE NATIONAL THEATRE AND FILM ACADEMY.

Marcus-DesandoOriginally from Pretoria Marcus (a Naledi awards nominee for best Actor in a Musical) started his Career with PACT in 1989 as a singer and in 1994 moved to Cape Town Opera (CAPAB) where his career as a director and principal singer started. As a singer Marcus sang in over 75 Operas, Musical theatre productions and Concerts in South Africa and abroad.


He travelled the world Singing and directing with New York Harlem Productions, Really Useful Company, Pieter Toerien Productions and Cape Town Opera. Marcus has had the honour of being invited by University of Stellenbosch, Tshwane University of Technology, UCT: college of music and UKZN OCSA (opera school) as a guest lecturer where he taught stage craft and also directed productions.


His production of Rigoletto was recorded and televised by SABC 2.Marcus has already directed over 40 productions Opera ranging from Opera to Concerts; he was invited by the Windhoek Symphony Orchestra and the Free State Symphony Orchestra in 2012 to sing in Handel’s Messiah and Beethoven Symphony no9 respectively.


Mr Desando is currently CEO for Gauteng Opera(formerly Black Tie Ensemble), reading for his Master’s degree in Business science (MSc) with da Vinci institute and Chairman of SANOA (South African National Opera Association).

Wilhelm Disbergen is a theatre set, costume, audiovisual, and lighting designer. He has designed more than a hundred productions locally and internationally, mostly at the Market Theatre and South African State Theatre. For opera, he has designed Lucia di Lammermoor, Cossi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni. For dance, he has created two works with celebrated French choreographer Redha Benteifour – Redha’s Giselle and CrashDance.


He designed the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year 2012, Bailey Snyman’s Moffie, and Sbonakaliso Ndaba’s Pula, and most recently, Mark Hawkins’ From The Til Now at the Durban Playhouse. In 2014 in theatre, he designed Marikana – The Musical, Protest and Mating Birds for the South African State Theatre and Silent Voice (seen in Edinburgh 2014 and on a national tour), Eclipsed for the Soweto Theatre.


He designed a new set for the TV Series Muvhango, a international fim set and designed and produced two recent Broadway productions – The Mountaintop​ at the Market Theatre, and The Testament of Mary. Amambazo – The Musical (featuring Multiple Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo) was seen at the South African State Theatre and again at the Durban Playhouse in Sept 2014.


Phenye ModianePhenye Modiane was born and bred in Ga-Rankuwa. He started singing at an early age, in school choirs, church choir and community choirs. He matriculated at Modiri high school in 2002. In 2002, he represented North West Province at the Tirisano School Choir Eisteddfod (now called SASCE) as a solo tenor, under the guidance of the late Mrs J.C Motshwane. In 2003, he enrolled at Tshwane University of Technology under the guidance of Pierre du Toit.


There he sang in various choruses including school choruses, Salon Music and Opera Africa choruses. And also did the roles of Conte Ivrea in Un Giorno di Regno and Gherrardo in Gianni Schicchi, both school productions. He completed his Btech in Vocal Art in 2006. In 2011, he sang the role of El Ramendado in the Opera Africa production of Carmen. In March 2012, he sang the role of Guard in the newly composed opera of Ziyankomo by Mr Phelelani Mnomiya. He sang as a soloist in the BTE VO1SS production of Kyk hier staan ‘n nuwe mens and the Verdi Gala. Currently he is a member of Forté and he is also busy with his BMus Hons through Universty of Pretoria.

KhumbuzileKhumbuzile is a soprano, she studied BA in music at UKZN.She has appeared as a soloist in a number of UKZN concerts, including the 2006 Lunch Hour Concerts with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. She also performed in OSCA’s production of Purcell’s Masque in Dioclesian, OSCA’s East and West and the National Arts Council Youth Festival in 2006.
Her roles at school incude Mimi from Puccini’s La Boheme as well as Pamina from Mozart’s Magic flute.


She won the Arts, Culture and Tourism Music Eisteddfod and the South African Post Office Music Eisteddfod.Khumbuzile toured internationally with Opera Africa, performing in Mzilikazi Khumalo’s Princess Magogo singing the role the first hand maiden. She also appeared in a number of concerts under the baton of Richard Cock.
Khumbuzile played the role of Sharon in the Terrence MacNally’s play about Maria Callas, Master class, in which she sang Lady Macbeth’s great Act 1 letter scene from Verdi’s Macbeth. She has also appeared in a number of concerts with KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra such as the Young Performers and Youth Concerts, The young singer also appeared in the Opera Africa’s staging of Puccini’s La Boheme and La Triviata at the State Theatre in Pretoria and the Johannesburg Theatre.


Khumbuzile was involved in the Zululand tour with KZNPO performing various opera arias and some light classical songs. She was one of the soloists in the closing ceremony of the French/ South Africa Season. Khumbuzile also performed at the Kings Concert hosted by the City of eThekwini.Khumbuzile performed as one of the soloists in the French tour with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and the Clermont Community Choir singing the soprano role in the work of uShaka ka Senzangakhona by Mzilikazi Khumalo.Khumbuzile appeared as a soprano soloist in the playhouse’s stage version of Hymn of Praise which was directed by Marcus Desando as well as Handel’s Messiah under the direction of Ralph Lawson.

Kagiso BorokoKagiso Boroko hails from Hammanskraal and already at school, he showed interest in choral music, joining his school choir in 2003. During this year he also joined the group ‘Sweet Voice Masters’ under the leadership of Bhekezizwe Nhlapo.


As a member of the ‘Sweet Voice Masters’ he realized that he loves performing and as a member of this group he performed and participated in the various events, competitions and performances, to name a few: The Unisa Music Foundation Competition, the birthday celebration of Mr Bill Venter, the Altron Awards in 2007 at the Sun City Palace at the Yamaha young talent Rocks Competition and at the Caltivisia Festival.
Kagiso successfully auditioned in 2010 for The Black Tie Ensemble’s Incubator Scheme.


During the next three years he participated as a member of the chorus, part of the Scheme’s training curriculum, in the BTE Opera Vignette production of CW Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in 2010. He was also a member in BTE’s Annual Christmas Concerts for 2010 and 2011. During 2011 he sang the role of the ‘Page’ in BTE’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Later that year he was part of the Vignette opera production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor and during September, Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and sang the role of Pinellino in the BTE production of Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.


During 2012 he participated in the following productions for BTE VO1SS: Forté: Power of the Voice; Verdi Opera Gala; A Spring Gala; One Voice: An African Celebration; A Christmas Concert and Carols by Candlelight. Kagiso passed his final assessment and is currently a member of Forté. He receives vocal coaching from Marcus Desando.

Coert Grobbelaar is an inhabitant of Johannesburg since birth. After completing his studies in law at the Rand Afrikaans University, he joined the South African Police Services where he worked in the law department for six years.
Grobbelaar made his debut in 1988 with the Transvaal première of Fidelio (Beethoven) at the Roodepoort Civic Theatre. Many parts in other operas followed. In 1990 he sang the Captain in the South African premiére of the french opera Les Dialoque des Carme-
lites (Poulenc).
In 1992 Die Fledermaus (Strauß) followed in which he sang the role of Gabrielle von Eisenstein. Grobbelaar sang the Rudolfo part in La Bohemé the same year.
In 1994 Grobbelaar left for Germany to continue his studies under the Tyrolean Helden Tenor Mario Filzi. He also recieved master classes from the internationally acclaimed Bulgarian tenor, Nicholai Nicholov. During his stay in Europe he performed concerts in Germany as well as in Padua in Italy. Grobbelaar made his debut as Don José in Carmen during the 950 centurion celebrations of the city of Mindelheim. He also participated in the 950 year celebrations gala concert which was broadcasted live over the Bavarian Ra- dio (Bayerishe Rundfunk).


In 1998 Grobbelaar decided to leave Europe for South Africa and for his last perfomance, he decided on an Afrikaans Artsong recital. Back in South Africa, Grobbelaar worked with the Black Ties Ensemble for a year and during this time he also performed as guest artist at the swan song concert of the New Arts Philharmonic Orchestra, the resident orchestra of the former PACT Opera. During 2005 Grobbelaar sang the Borsa role in Rigoletto( Verdi) for Opera Africa in Bloemfontein and in the State Theatre, Pretoria. In 2009 Turido in the opera Cavaleria Rusticana folowed. As member of the Sempre Opera Company he sang the role of Melchior in Amahl and the night visitors in the company’s first opera in 2014. Besides opera, Grobbelaar also works in other genres. He has worked with quite a few actors like Annette Engelbrecht, Rika Sennett, Marga van Rooy and Magda van Biljon.


In 2008 Grobbelaar was invited to perform with Laurika Rauch, Karel Trichardt and Petru Wessels in a gala concert at the Voortrekker Monument in celebrating the opening of the Afrikaner Art Centre. In 2010 Grobbelaar and Dalien Ahlers started an outreach project: The Vaal Tri Ensemble. The project focuses on the development of vocal talent amongst less-fortunate youngsters in the Vaal Triangle area and is a great success story on its own.
In 2012 Grobbelaar was invited to participate in the celebration concert to honor Mimi Coertse on her eightieth birthday, at the University of Pretoria.
Grobbelaar is also a founder member of the opera society called Sempre Opera and is currently on the management team, as well as a trustee of the company.
He and Linette van der Merwe is the representatives of Sempre Opera on the South African National Opera Association.
Besides the above tutors, Grobbelaar also recieved vocal training from Coert Grobbelaar (snr), Dawn Brown, Louis Botha, Jermilla Tellinger and Carla Pohl. From Trinity College London, Grobbelaar obtained the ATCL and LTCL (cum laude) diplomas.

Natalie BathNatalie Dickson completed both her Performers Diploma in Music (Opera) and her Bachelor of Music (Honours) with distinction, specialising in Opera at University of Cape Town, South Africa. She then went on to study her Post Graduate Diploma in Singing at the Royal College of Music, London for which she received a distinction.


Natalie was a member of the prestigious Cape Town Opera Studio for two years and went on to work as a professional opera singer, performing 32 operatic, operetta and musical lead roles, numerous soprano leads in oratorios, concerts and recitals both in South Africa and internationally.


Natalie has produced, directed and stage managed various shows and productions, including schools outreach programmes in South Africa. She then focused on teaching in London when starting a family and was Director of Music at Abercorn School in Marylebone.


Now living back in South Africa, Natalie continues to combine both performing and teaching. She was invited to sing, as one of ‘The South African 10 Soprano’s’, was the soloist for Gauteng Opera’s launch and for the Kloof Rotary Pops Concert to name a few. Natalie is also a singing teacher and Choir mistress for a number of schools in Gauteng, teaching both from her studio, and at school, also assisting with ‘Big Wig Operas’ chorus and is their in house soprano.


Natalie loves being able to combine both performing and teaching, thus being able to impart her knowledge to the younger generation and inspire them through performance.

lombardElizabeth Lombard’s oratorio repertoire includes Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Matthäus-Passion, Johannes-Passion and Weihnachtsoratorium, Mozart’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle, Schubert’s Mass in A-flat-major, Bach’s Mass in B-minor, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the Verdi Requiem. In 1994 she made her debut for PACT as Anina in Verdi’s La Traviata, for which she received an FNB Vita Award for the most promising newcomer.


Her operatic roles include both the Second Lady and the Third Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, smaller roles such as Alisa in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Giovanna in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Mamma Lucia in Mascagni’s Cavelleria Rusticana, and Anna Jorg in the world premiere of Roelof Temmingh’s Buchuland, as well as Fenena in Verdi’s Nabucco, Fidalma in Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, Prince Orlofsky in J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the Marquise de Birkenfeld in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment and the gypsy Czipra in J.Strauss’ Der Zigeunerbaron. Elizabeth Lombard made her debut as director with Salon Music for their production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and has subsequently directed Lehar’s Merry Widow and Bizet’s Carmen. She was lecturer in voice at the Tswhane University of Technology until 2008.. She is currently a partner in a business specializing in training and quality assurance.

njabuloBaritone – Durban, South Africa
Njabulo Mthimkhulu, baritone, is a native of South Africa. He grew up in Kwa-Mashu near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. He graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2006 with Performers Diploma in Opera and Post Graduate Diploma in Opera in 2008.


After his European debut in Sweden as Jean in Boesman’s Julie, He was recruited by Professor Barbara Hill-Moore, a Distinguished Professor of the Meadows School of The Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas to further his studies. He has sung Marullo in Rigoletto and de Bretigny in Manon with the Cape Town Opera and was a soloist for Handel’s Messiah ,Haydn’s Missa Cellensis ,Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Schubert Mass in G. His repertoire includes the title role in Don Giovanni, Count in Le Nozze di Figaro, Rambaldo in La Rondine, Belcore in L’elisir D’amore, Sid in Albert Herring.
He was in the Dallas Opera Young Artist Program fro three year. The talented baritone graduated from Southern Methodist University with Masters in Music Performance.

thamsanq-khabaThamsanqa Khaba hails from Durban and started singing at an early age and studied Performers Diploma in Opera at the University of Cape Town under the directorship of Angelo Gobbato. He studied voice with Juan Burgers, Brad Liebl and Virginia Davids. Highlights from his career include various operas as a student, uShaka ka Senzangakhona with the KZNPO, Haydn’s Creation and Handel’sMessiah.


He also worked with Mark Danford-May where he performed Sarastro in Impempe yomlingo (The Magic Flute) in Italy, Austria and Australia. Gauteng Opera’s La Traviata in Concert in June 2015 was the first time working with Gauteng Opera.



Aug 7th 2015 @ 8:00 am
Aug 9th 2015 @ 5:00 pm
Event Category:


Soweto Theatre, Johannesburg