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PRINCESS MAGOGO - LATEST (article first published : 2003-01-30)

THE battle for control of the opera, Princess Magogo, between musicians, singers and soloists on the one hand and Opera Africa and African Opera Productions on the other is not over. Yesterday in the High Court Judge Noel Hurt referred the matter to trial.

Although the February run of Princess Magogo in Pretoria's State Theatre will go ahead as planned with the cast and musicians engaged by Opera Africa for the four performances, a decision on whether or not the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Durban Serenade Choral Society and five of the soloists from last year's original Durban production have a five year right of first refusal to perform in any further productions will have to be decided by a trial court. Who pays the costs incurred so far will also be decided at that stage.

Opera Africa claims that the applicants only got the first refusal clause into their contracts on the day of the premiere by threatening to refuse to perform a matter of hours before the show opened in front of an audience of VIPs, including Deputy president Jacob Zuma and Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi whose mother is the subject of the opera.

The papers before the court included a letter from the original soloists accusing Opera Africa CEO Sandra de Villiers of treating them with disrespect, of being patronising and of exploiting and violating black South African musical heritage. The signatories include Sibongile Khumalo, who will again sing the role of Princess Magogo in Pretoria, and Bongani Tembe who is also the CEO of the KZNPO. In other documents, Opera Africa accuses Tembe of being constantly late for rehearsals, of not knowing his part and of being disappointing in his role.

Judge Hurt said it is unfortunate that artists who are all keen to develop the culture of the country have fallen out. Although he referred the matter to trial, he said he hoped the two sides do not remain locked in litigation.

In a related development, Karin Roets of Spoor and Fisher, Opera Africa's Pretoria-based attorneys, said the company had heard yesterday that the National Arts Council (NAC) has suspended its "substantial" funding to Opera Africa until the case is resolved. Tembe is a member of the NAC board.

The attorney for the musicians and singers, Ian Cox of Cox, Yeats was in a meeting with his clients at the time of going to press. With regard to a possible settlement of the case, he said that his doors were always open, and that neither party's interests would be served in the long run by going to court.




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