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OSCA LAUNCHED (article first published : 2003-09-26)

Four years of stress, sweat and tears as well as many light moments finally produced the targeted end result when the University of Natal’s Opera School and Choral Academy (OSCA) was launched with much fanfare at a gala concert on September 20.

The new home of OSCA, at the speedily-renovated Jubilee Centre, was a hub of excitement as a near-capacity crowd gathered in the new 230-seater theatre to witness the dawning of a new era in opera and choral music in Durban.

Hosted by Professor David Smith, Programme Director for Opera and Choral Studies at the University of Natal, the evening was a stunning tribute to the commitment and energy with which the contingent involved in the development of OSCA has carried out its task.

The work was of a very high standard - from the evergreen KZN Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO) through to the mature singing talent and skill of Lwazi Ncube and Zanele Gumede, both recently returned from taking part at the Massed Choir Festival. Not to be outdone were new voices who staked their claim on the opera scene in the form of Lauren Dasappa, Bonginkosi Cingani, Selby Hlangu, Sibusiso Mkhize, Bongani Zondi and Smangele Mkhize, with the opera and choral ensembles complemented the soloists beautifully.

The performers had the audience enthralled as they wove their way through the intricacies of popular solos and ensembles by Purcell, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky and Leoncavallo, as well as choruses by Donizetti, Smetana and Tchaikovsky.

The opera school is the branchild of Max Loppert and he was at the function to explain to the audience how the project developed from his original idea in 1999 to reality in the form of a redesigned Jubilee Centre in 2003. The facilities now boast teaching and rehearsal space, administrative facilities and the theatre in which the performance took place. This follows the establishment of the school through a grant-in-aid from the Atlantic Philanthropists.

The more spirited second half led up to a fantastic finale where David Smith took over the baton from KZNPO conductor Naum Rousine. Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Natal, Professor Emmanuel Ngara, brought those in attendance back to the politics of performance in South Africa when he gave a speech detailing how the idea of the Opera School had been hard to accept for the University executive in the face of transformation. It was because of the efforts of the former Vice Chancellor, Brenda Gourley, that it was finally approved and supported in its fund-raising by the Natal University Development Fund.

After all that, there was still time for the choir to bring us back “home” by returning us from the world of European languages with a popular South African choral song. Even sceptics who had been debating all night whether the evening was not a display of assimilation into European cultural traditions were convinced that opera “has been assimilated and domesticated and made part of South Africa’s rainbow cultures,” in Ngara’s words.

The evening was a fitting dress rehearsal for the five soloists – Lwazi Ncube, Zanele Gumede, Sibusiso Mkhize, Selby Hlangu and Bongani Zondi – who will perform at a fundraising concert at the New School University in New York on October 14.

OSCA is raising funds to equip their new theatre with the aim of mounting productions of opera, music theatre and choral music once it is fully functional. They are also looking to complete the redesigning of the Jubilee Centre to include a bar and more rehearsal space but, most importantly, they intend to offer more scholarships to students depending on scholarships to remain in the school.

OSCA would welcome donations from all who would like to support their efforts. Cheques can be sent to the Natal University Development Foundation, University of Natal, 232 King George V Avenue, Durban 4041 with a covering note indicating that the amount is intended for the Opera School and Choral Academy. - Mbongiseni Buthelezi




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