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Vermaak | Entertainment > Musiek | Music > Artikels | Features > Princess Magogo – The royal opera comes home

Princess Magogo – The royal opera comes home


Ina van Rooyen - 2009-03-26

Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu (1900–1984) is one of the great women of world history. In my book she is right up there with Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale and Indira Ghandi. Her life acts as a role model for women throughout the world. In her phenomenal life, she became an exceptional composer and exponent of Zulu songs.                   
                                     – Sandra de Villiers, CEO, Opera Africa
 

“South Africa is in for a treat when Opera Africa’s marathon run of the South African opera production Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu (a true story) once again returns to Gauteng’s stages at the end of March after its acclaimed overseas productions over several years,” says Sandra de Villiers, Opera Africa’s chief executive director.
   
Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu is a unique production that paves the way for a new genre where South Africans can make opera their own. It will be staged again in the State Opera in Pretoria from March 28 until April 4. Thereafter it opens in the Johannesburg Civic Theatre on 26 April, until 10 May 2009. The acclaimed Dutch conductor Vincent de Kort will conduct the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) when he again joins forces with Opera Africa.

This musical marvel is based on the true story of the Zulu nation’s first female composer, whose voice moved listeners from laughter to tears, and toward a greater understanding of themselves as a people.
    
The opera, in two acts with a prologue and an epilogue by Mzilikazi Khumalo, had its premiere in The Playhouse in Durban on 4 May 2002. Thereafter it was also staged in the Pretoria State Opera in February 2003, among others. Michael Hankinson, then resident conductor of the JPO, was responsible for the orchestration of the musical script as well as the arrangements, and he composed the additional music to the opera. He conducted the JPO during the first several productions. Hankinson has since left the country to work overseas.
    
The international communities of four continents shared in Opera Africa’s dream of starting a distinctly African opera by means of a live broadcast of the Durban premiere of the opera. The televised broadcast was initiated and syndicated by Steve Robinson of WFMT Radio and Networks of Chicago. Sadly, the rest of South Africa could not share in this privilege.
   
The dazzling opera is a visionary masterpiece, incorporating a blend of Zulu traditional music and traditional operatic conventions as composed by Princess Constance Magogo kaDinuzulu (1900–1984), Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s late mother.
    
According to Opera Africa’s website, the opera is based on the life of the princess who, to this day, remains a royal legend. She is widely recognised as a singer, composer, musician, teacher and political activist.
   
The opera’s librettist, Themba Msimang, says Princess Magogo was one of the greatest women in history. She was a living storehouse of Zulu culture and history, most of which is epitomised in her music – a worthy contribution to the Zulu heritage. She was born at a crucial stage in Zulu history, at the time when the British were trying to squash the Zulu monarchy, and became a custodian of the people’s culture. The British were amazed to discover how intense and intricate the Zulu royal system was, of which the princess was a direct descendant.
   
When the opera was first staged in Durban and Pretoria in 2002/3 with Sibongile Khumalo from Soweto – renowned singer of classical art songs, opera, jazz and traditional music – in the title role, Mangosuthu Buthelezi wrote the following message for the production’s programme:

I cannot describe the magnitude of the significance I ascribe to this opera. From my childhood to my adult life I was privileged to hear my mother’s beautiful voice singing songs that ranged from lullabies, church hymns, indigenous songs, hymns of the Zulu Nation, songs and hymns of the Buthelezi clan, light music similar to "mbaqanga" of her youth, and her compositions, which included love songs, religious songs, regimental songs of the Zulu Nation and hunting songs in what was an endless repertoire.

I salute what Opera Africa has done in putting together this opera on my mother’s life and music which is indeed a wonderful tribute to a great musician. For me opera remains the highest form of artistic human expression as it merges music at its best with theatre, poetry, dance and choreography. I am deeply touched that Sibongile Khumalo should play the lead role of Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu in the opera, for I remember occasions when we sat with her and her late parents, Professor and Mrs Khabi Mngoma at the feet of the Princess, as she played “ugubhu" and sang some of the songs that Sibongile now sings in the opera. To me the birth of an African Opera of this measure is a milestone in our quest for an African Renaissance.

Ms Khumalo "retired" from this role after the production ended in “Den Norske Opera” in Oslo, Norway in 2007. The roles of Princess Magogo as a young girl and later as a mature woman were separated and are now portrayed by Tina Mene and Tembisile Twala, according to Sandra de Villiers.
   
It is said that Prof Mzilikazi Khumalo from Johannesburg sat with the late Princess Magogo kaDinizulu and taped her songs while she was singing, as she was unable to write down her own compositions. The professor then transcribed both the texts and the notation, and as such it could be saved for the nation to enjoy.

 

Song cycle – Sing, Princess!
   
SAMRO (South African Music Rights Organisation) Endowment for the National Arts first commissioned the Princess’s music in 1999 – about 15 years after her death – to be arranged by Mzilikazi Khumalo and for piano by Peter Klatzow, composer and professor at the University of Cape Town.

Extracts from Princess Magogo’s song cycle Haya, Mntwan’ Omkhulu! (Sing, Princess!) were first sung in Pretoria by bass baritone Abel Moeng from Rustenburg (who studied at Juilliard in New York) with the National Youth Orchestra of South Africa before Sibongile Khumalo’s first performance of the full cycle of these amazing eight songs. Malcolm Nay accompanied the multitalented mezzo-soprano on the piano.
   
At that stage the opera was still a dream, and Ms Khumalo expressed her intense desire to be able to sing the Princess’s music to the accompaniment of an orchestra. Little did she know that she would portray the operatic role of Princess Magogo all over the world for years after her dream came true. Her immense musical capacity launched her into the limelight when she won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1993.
   
Following its world premiere in Durban in 2002, this marvellous extravaganza has enjoyed international acclaim, with performances in Chicago at the Centenary Celebration of the Ravinia Festival, at Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam and in Oslo at Den Norske Opera.

Princess Magogo has now returned home and is set to follow in the footsteps of Opera Africa’s triumphant production of Verdi’s Africanised Aida, staged on Robben Island. Set to a libretto of Themba Msimang, the music of composer Mzilikazi Khumalo, directed by Themi Venturas and with designs by Andrew Verster, this is a feast of beauty and grandeur. Lavish costumes, stunning design, exhilarating Zulu dancing and the unmistakably beautiful voices of Zulu choristers will captivate audiences as the music and dance tells the story as much as do the words.
   
Apart from Tina Mene and Thembisile Twala in the two title roles, the cast is partly as follows: King Dinukuzulu – Otto Maidi; Induna Mankulumana – Ayanda Hlongwa;  Queen Silomo – Kelebogile Boikanyo; Colonel Duncan – Righard Linde; Praise Singer – Mduduzi Mpungose; Prince Solomon – Khotso Tsekeletsa; Chief Matholo – Themba Maseko. The Opera Africa Chorus features prominently and the Shembe and Zulu Dancers’ performance is breathtaking.

 

The conductor

Vincent de Kort, who will be conducting the JPO in the local productions, is one of the leading Dutch conductors of his generation. Recent performances of Don Giovanni in Amsterdam, Rodolphe’s Jason et Médée in Leipzig, and invitations at Dresden’s Semperoper, where he conducts La Bohème, confirm his growing international reputation.
   
Having studied under Ilya Musin, the great Russian teacher of Gergiev, under the guidance and influence of Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, William Christie and Mariss Jansons, amongst others, Vincent de Kort has developed a musical vision through baroque and classical styles to romantic and contemporary repertoire.
   
He regularly conducts the major orchestras of Europe, including the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Leipzig, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Flemish Radio Orchestra, the New Japan Philharmonic, the Zürich Symphony and the European Union Youth Orchestra to great acclaim.
   
De Kort has conducted Così fan Tutte and Die Zauberflöte for Scottish Opera, Le Nozze di Figaro in Tokyo, Die Zauberflöte, Die lustige Witwe and Aap verslaat de Knekelgeest/Monkey Subdues the White-bone Demon (Peter Schat) for the Dutch Nationale Reisopera, Peter Grimes in Luzern, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Traviata, Falstaff, Aida and Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

De Kort was honoured in 2003 by the president of the Tatarstan Republic for his rendition of the opera Boris Godunov for the State Opera of Tatarstan. He also conducted L’Europe Galante (Campra), The Fairy Queen (Purcell), Juditha Triumphans (Vivaldi), Carmen (Bizet/Peter Brook), Dialogues des Carmélites (Poulenc), Westerling (Jan Bus), and in a co-production for the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague and Theatre De Appel, Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat.
   
In 1998 he co-founded the Opera Festival Alden Biesen, Belgium, and was music director of the summer festival and the European Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra. The success of the festival productions of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro as well as Il Barbiere di Siviglia resulted in annual invitations to further performances on the Grand-Place in Brussels, in Antwerpen, and in semi-staged performances in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
    
De Kort has also appeared at the Brighton Festival, the Brussels Summer Festival, the Festival di Caracalla, Rome, and the Chaliapin Festival, Kazan in Russia.

Opera Africa has a fine reputation for presenting operas of artistic quality. Central to the company’s success is the excellent leadership of the administrative and artistic staff who understand the culture of the organisation. Working in association with the SA State Theatre, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, CIRCA, Cinema Nouveau and other institutions enables Opera Africa to stage large-scale operas and to feature a new generation of operatic talent.

Bookings at Computicket. Concessions are available.

Website: www.operaafrica.co.za

Contact: Sandra de Villiers (CEO) Tel +27 11 883 4189