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NDODANA NEW OPERA (article first published : 2002-06-28)

A new opera written by South African-born conductor and composer Bongani Ndodana will be staged for the first time in Durban at the end of July. Titled Umuntu: Threnody and Dances, it was written specially for well-known soprano Linda Bukhosini and follows the style frequently used in chamber operas of using a solo singer accompanied by a small group of musicians. Acclaimed artist Andrew Verster will be designing the set and costumes.

Commissioned through a grant from the National Arts Council of South Africa, the work is part of a larger opera cycle by Ndodana entitled Umuntu: the Lives of African Women. Ndodana, who was the winner of the1998 Standard Bank Young Artists Award, is currently based in Toronto Canada, where he is artistic director and conductor of Ensemble Noir. Bukhosini urged Ndodana to create a vocal piece that would highlight the soulfulness of Africa. The concept of Umuntu: Threnody and Dances was partly inspired by a book written by South African-born sociologist Diana Russell and Ndodana's own interest in the contribution of African women to humanity.

Umuntu: Threnody and Dances is scored for a solo soprano and four cellists, who also play a wide variety of percussion instruments. The solo singer interacts with the musicians who themselves form part of this tableau vivant. This opera is based on the model of Chinese Ghost Opera, a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

As Ndodana explains: “The work is intended to commemorate those who lost their lives during post-liberation wars on the African continent, spanning conflicts in Rwanda and Angola, as well as the violence in KwaZulu-Natal. I am very pleased that Linda Bukhosini will create the role of Nomzamo as she is a fine actress as well as an outstanding singer.”

Bukhosini herself is very excited by the project. 'Not only is it a privilege to give the first performance of a new opera, but it is particularly exciting for me to create a role that has so much meaning on this continent. Nomzamo's transcendence of her hardships and her eventual forgiveness is a very real and soulful part of African culture.'

Born in Chesterville, Bukhosini holds bachelors and masters degrees from the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Her singing career has taken her from the United States to Brazil, India, the UK, Malaysia, Germany and the Far East. She has performed for numerous heads of state. She has sung the part of Marguerite in Gounod's Faust and Queen Silomo in Princess Magogo as well as numerous concerts appearances.

Umuntu: Threnody and Dances faces the savagery of ethnic conflict and racist oppression. Taken from personal stories, it tells its powerful story through Nomzamo, a survivor of horrific events, including the murder of her infant son. The libretto highlights the divisiveness of ethnic and racial conflict and the loneliness of exile as the audiences learns of harrowing events, sorrows of exile and finally catharsis.

The piece as a whole serves as a musical commemoration of these human tragedies and offers a glimmer of hope at the end. Nomzamo embarks on a purification ritual to appease the spirits of the Ancient Ones (hence the dances). During this rite, played by the instrumental group and three dancers, she silently embraces the circumstances that have brought her to where she is and given her the opportunity to share her story.

Threnody and Dances will be performed at the Courtyard Theatre at the Durban Institute of Technology (formerly Technikon Natal) on July 31 and August 2 at 19h30 and on August 4 at 14h30. Tickets R45 at Computicket or at the door.




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