A new opera based on the lives of young choral singers will be the fourth production in Umculo’s five-year history of working with professional music theatre teams in the disadvantaged communities around Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“Comfort Ye” is a story of hope in times of despair, a mixed-genre blend of baroque and contemporary music, a timeless tale of music as a means for speaking the unspeakable.
In a libretto co-authored by 12-to-18-year-olds from the disadvantaged community of Kraaifontein, Xhosa playwright and author Fatima Dike, and Umculo’s international leading team, a story from the daily lives of a South African community is narrated. Texts in Xhosa, English, German and Italian are set to music by Handel, Bach, the young participants themselves, and composer Catherine Milliken. Arias and choruses meet riffs and chants; experimental rhythms and sounds shift to 18th-century symphonies.
Umculo regards opera as an ideal medium for social discourse, and its productions draw on themes which are relevant to the communities involved. Umculo’s 2012/2013 production of Purcell’s “Fairy Queen” examined themes of gender and identity in a community context where gender-based violence and “corrective rape” is prevalent; “Comfort Ye” takes a deeper look at issues affecting the daily lives of its young protagonists. A participatory creation process ensures that contemporary themes are developed and expressed through innovative forms. An experienced leading team, extensive local support, international partnerships and a long development time-frame guarantee a high level of professionalism in the finished production. Creative exchange and eye-level skills-sharing assure a project which speaks strongly to a broad-based community audience, as well as carrying strong international resonance.
In South Africa, where choral singing and opera are more popular than football, stories told through song carry a long history of vitality, and strike a chord with a majority of the population. In Europe, opera companies seek ways to interest younger generations in music theatre. One country’s strength is the other’s deficit; a partnership brings mutual benefit. “Comfort Ye” will bring the music of Handel, Bach, Milliken and today’s youth to a peer-based audience of young singers in South Africa, and to a mixed public not yet aware of its own confluences with its antipodean counterparts in Germany. Creative workshops in both countries will afford audience members the chance to understand the project on a deeper level through their own imaginative process.
In a series of workshops held at Bloekombos Secondary School (Kraaifontein) and in central Cape Town in May/June 2014, the young singers will tell their stories, working with Umculo’s creative team to set their texts to music and to develop a synopsis for the new opera. A workshop presentation will be held at the culmination of the working period; choir, soloists, and a small chamber ensemble w