Tea with Shirley Apthorp

Venue:  JB Rivers, Hyde Park.  Unremarkable.

Some years ago I attended a performance of young people performing Purcell’s The Fairy Queen together with members of the South African National Youth Orchestra. Read about that here.  http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=29628.  I was very impressed if you don’t feel like clicking the link (or cutting and pasting it if it doesn’t show as clickable).

The production was too big for it to be viable to tour again, and the direction of the Cape Town based Umculo project founded in 2010 changed as a result of some of the lessons learned in that and subsequent projects.  Umculo is a Xhosa word meaning both “art music” and “reconciliation”   In 2016, Umculo launched its Opera Incubator programme, headed by the South African born, German based, Kobie van Rensburg, to provide a growth platform for an operatic art form that is relevant to contemporary South African communities and institutions. By combining the aims of artistic excellence and innovation with educational and training programmes, the Opera Incubator explores the full potential of opera as a means of social development.  Tinus Spies is the assistant director of Lamento.

I had tea with South African born, Berlin based, Shirley Apthorp, director of Umculo and the project manager for that production of The Fairy Queen, and very importantly, the project manager for a new production at South Africa’s iconic The Market Theatre, Lamento, which will open on 3 November 2016.

Lamento’s premise is that what happened in the past can shape the future and that sometimes forgiveness is a radical act.  While it is not about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it uses some of those stories, not as a narrative, but as a springboard into examining forgiveness today. My own thoughts on the subject include the concept that the spiritual importance of forgiveness is vital.  Living in a state of unforgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. The eternal nature of this truth is brought home to us in the choice of music.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was an Italian composer and Catholic priest.  He worked at the time that Renaissance music was giving way to the Baroque period.  He is known for having composed the first opera (now lost), L’Orfeo. Lamento makes use of a patchwork of Monteverdi music, including about twenty minutes drawn from the 1624 “Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda”.  As far as it is known it is the first time there is a live performance of this music in South Africa.  Monteverdi’s work talked about love and hatred, violence and forgiveness; it was also biting political satire. Van Rensburg brings 17th-century Italy and recent South Africa history into the here and now with a new work that promises to be dark, funny, provocative and profound.


Braai the Beloved Country with Nick de Jager and Bongani Mthombeni

The early music merges with contemporary technology in a multi-media presentation which tells a passionate and political story.  Animated projected texts in English, Zulu and Afrikaans come alive and move through the sets, along with the singers, against blue-screen technology.  Five of South Africa’s promising young classical singers – sopranos Elsabé Richter and Nombuso Ndlandla, tenor Nick de Jager and bass Ronald Paseka, with Bongani Mthombeni and Sibusiso Simelane alternating in the role of high tenor, will take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotions in search of truth and reconciliation in seven scenes where TRC hearings are addressed through the medium of opera. “In fact”, says Apthorp, “to call it opera is a bit misleading. This is something new, made with gut-wrenchingly gorgeous music, to talk about things that matter today.”


Drowning the past – Elsabe as the wife of the general.

The Lamento ensemble is made up of six instrumentalists on harpsichord/organ, chitarrone/ baroque guitar, cello, viola and two violins.

Kobie’s work as a director has been winning awards and filling houses in Europe,” says Shirley Apthorp, director of Umculo. “Umculo is very proud to be able to present LAMENTO at the Market Theatre. It’s multi-layered and incredibly engaging, and somehow both precise and intensely lyrical. You can see why his shows are selling out in Germany, but at the same time what he has created here is uniquely South African. This is a love song to a country that is being torn apart by conflict, and a testimony to its capacity for healing.”


The prisoner’s wife and the Bishop, Nombuso Ndladla and Ronald Paseko.

Audiences are invited to engage with  questions raised by Lamento, an exploration of Desmond Tutu’s declaration: “I am a prisoner of hope.”What drives us to hate and hurt each other? What hope is there when our leaders are corrupt? What is the point where victim and perpetrator meet? How do we deal with past wrongs? Can we truly forgive? Does love still have meaning?”  It sounds like theatre one shouldn’t miss.

Umculo is offering EDUCATIONAL WORKSHOPS for Lamento to interested high schools and community groups (choirs given priority). The workshops are 90 minutes long. Through an interactive, creative process, participants are brought into contact with the content and form of “Lamento”. Please contact Phiwe Makaula on 078 092 2739 to arrange a workshop.  Lebona Sello is the co-ordinator for the Education Initiative.

Season: Thursday 3 November – Sunday 6 November 2016
Press night:  Thursday 3 November
Venue: The John Kani Theatre
Performance times: Thursday to Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm
Tickets: R95.00

Bookings: Computicket – 0861 915 8000 / block bookings – contact Anthony Ezeoke 011 025 0377 (direct line) / 072 413 9247 or Ncebakazi Thintsila 079 946 3071





About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
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