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STARLIGHT POP OPERA (article first published : 2005-06-8)

The weather did not bode well for Sunday night’s Starlight Pop Opera, one of Durban’s annual cultural highlights presented by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and sponsored by First National Bank.

I was on a film shoot in Umlazi in the morning and the wind was howling around the houses, creating dust storms and generally causing havoc. I thought – “The Creator is not going to be kind to us tonight”.

However He (or She, depending on your belief) was kind. Alright, we had a short sharp shower –maybe just to show who’s still in charge! – and a bit of blustery wind but the event wove its magic as always. Some 5,000 music lovers waved their light sticks (clever move to use FNB’s colours of turquoise and orange!) as they enjoyed a fine programme of opera and musical theatre highlights in the attractive surrounds of the Durban Country Club.

One of the highlights of the evening was the surprise and highly popular appearance of Grammy-award winners, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who included in their items a number called Nomathemba which has an orchestral backing. It was arranged by Michael Hankinson for the group when they appeared at the International Music Festival in Pretoria in 2001. This is the first time the KZNPO have performed the piece and it offers a fascinating new dimension to LBM’s music.

Elegantly hosted by the beautiful and glamorous Sorisha Naidoo, the programme also featured Heinz Winckler, South Africa’s first Idols winner, and Nondumiso Tembe who is currently studying in New York City. Heinz is an engaging and charming entertainer and I enjoyed Ain’t No Sunshine. Nondumiso just gets better and better and has now acquired an endearing sophistication as well as honed vocal control, displaying the dramatic skills of her mother (Linda Bukhosini) and the all-embracing musicality of her father (Bongani Tembe).

Heinz and Nondumiso completed the programme with A Whole New World from Aladdin. Can’t say I was happy with the musical arrangement, it was very strident and missing the original mood of wonderment.

Cape Town-based operatic soprano Zanne Stapelberg, who impressed me so much at the Vodacom Unisa Voice Competition a couple of months ago, was stunning in Dvořák’s Song to the Moon and Vilja from The Merry Widow.

Also appearing on the programme were the effervescent Durban Divas whose I Will Survive was a hit and the powerful Durban Serenade Choral Society who sang the item from Zizi Lethu, Themba Lethu which galvanised audiences at the Barbican in London and at a concert in Bremen. The Nateshwar Dance Company introduced a touch of exotic Eastern charm and hearts were won by the children’s choir made up of the Gozololo Project (see below) and Manor Gardens Primary.

Popular Chinese conductor En Shao was on the podium and the KZN Philharmonic was in top form, with In The Mood receiving a delighted audience response.

This is the KZNPO’s seventh annual Starlight Pop Opera and all kudos is due to First National Bank for recognising Durban audiences’ liking for open-air concerts with a sophisticated flair. Roll on the next one! – Caroline Smart

First National Bank will donate R5 from every ticket sold at the concert towards the KwaMashu-based Gozololo Project. This year’s chosen charity, it supports children who have been affected by HIV/Aids and also those who have been abused or left homeless.

To visit the orchestra’s website visit www.kznpo.co.za or click on the banner advert on the main pages.




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