Opera goes township

2018-09-16 08:33
Bulelwa Basse

Cape Town - Imagine an opera musical, with perfomers in full costume – not on stage, not in a theatre – but at a car dealership. Amazing, isn’t it? This is what happened when the Township Opera Company launched in Cape Town this week.

The black-owned opera group, which is made up of opera singers who could not find space in more renowned groups, aims to make sure its members are well looked after and also wants to popularise opera music in the townships.

An excited Lungile Jacobs, founder of Township Opera Company, said the company came about after its members failed to get joy from white-owned and white-run companies.

The company has about 21 opera singers, who are also shareholders.

“Township Opera Company is an idea whose time has come. It’s long overdue, as black people have been providing classical singing in the communities from the mid-1990s. But everything has been run and operated by white companies. White people have always had resources, while black opera singers have been beneficiaries of whatever they have been paid.

“For example, three years ago, one of the women who dedicated 25 years of her life to a certain opera company in Port Elizabeth, retired. She received nothing, not even a cent, from the company she worked for. Now she is just sitting on a dusty street of Port Elizabeth with no recognition, doing nothing. That alone made me realise that a lot of opera singers are not given recognition and their work is taken for granted. That’s when I decided to start a company that will give recognition to black opera singers from the townships,” said Jacobs.

(OPERA: The launch of the Township Opera Company at a car dealership. Photo: Supplied)

With the theme of Living Opera, the company’s goal is to popularise opera and change people’s perception of it.

“We are planning on moving from the traditional ways of performing opera and taking it to the people. We want to perform at malls, train stations and schools. We just want to move it away from the theatre.”

Not only does the company focus on bringing opera to the townships, it also wants to collaborate with other talents – poets and fashion designers –from the communities and give them exposure.

“Opera is not only about singing. To have a complete opera performance, singers need to have costumes and they need to say words, so we are also working with fashion designers and poets.

“It is about self-expression, it is about articulating creativity and it is also about communicating elements of spiritualism. Opera, for the longest time, has been perceived to be a Western [cultural art form]. Now, merging it with elements of Africanism and tying it to unspoken words, it ties in the history that is embedded in African oral tradition. That is the strong link between opera and unspoken words. It’s about expression.”


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