By Peter Tromp
Nkosazana Dimande is a larger than life figure, but for an opera star, one expects nothing less. Her life story, which she recounted to me in full, is pretty extraordinary and definitely qualifies as one of triumph over adversity. Time and time again, this self-described shy mother of one had to brave life’s obstacles that have ranged from the deaths of her closest loved ones to her having to cope with spousal abuse. (Her carefully weaved dreadlocks serves as a personal, physical reminder of all she has overcome, as well as keeping her centred.)
Perhaps her greatest challenge has been to overcome her own shyness to own the talent that she was blessed with and now Dimande is one of the most in-demand up-and-coming opera stars in Sweden, the country where she currently resides and is living her dream. She is back in Cape Town to perform in Cape Town Opera’s special production of Beethoven’s only opera ‘Fidelio’ at The Castle. Dimande will sing and act the part of Leonore, a brave woman who sets out on a quest to liberate her husband, who has been wrongfully imprisoned for trying to expose an evil governor’s crimes against humanity.
On the day I interviewed her, the imposing set for the production was still being completed, but we nonetheless traversed the structure to find a cool and quiet spot in one of The Castle’s upstairs rooms.
What can people look forward to with this production of ‘Fidelio’?
The setting, with the Castle in the background, is different than many opera fans would be used to. The costumes are more modern, so it will make for quite a contrast with the Castle’s historical setting. It’s totally different to any ‘Fidelio’ that anyone might have seen. The cast consists of young up and comers, so there will be a lot of energy. It’s going to be a great spectacle.
Tell us about your character Leonore and your preparation for the role. How did you find her?
My character is definitely heroic. She reminded me a lot of Winnie Mandela – she tries everything to get her husband out of prison. In finding the character I could relate to the harassments that Winnie went through in her struggles during the apartheid era. So I would definitely say that my character wasn’t difficult to find. It wasn’t necessary to go beyond what’s close at home to find a context.
How much acting is involved with this role?
Christine (Crouse – the director) is more focused on the acting with this production. During the rehearsal processes she really wanted us all to bring out the characters because that will make the story much more relatable to the audience, something the singing alone might not do with this particular production, I feel. I have become more and more comfortable with the acting part of things as the process has gone on. Although I wasn’t born an actor, I have come to love it and when I am called upon to do it, I really put myself in the character. I have even felt myself falling in love with the German dialogue in ‘Fidelio’.
What has the experience been like of rehearsing an opera in this open air space, as opposed to a theatre or opera house?
When I first visited the space, I was so excited, because I only know of people doing opera outside like this in Verona. The Castle’s history has many similarities with that of ‘Fidelio’ so even during rehearsal, it’s easy to find the character and feel the drama of the story.
As someone who is based in Europe, what is your impression of the esteem with which South African singers are held overseas?
I am very casual in person, perhaps even more than casual, but when I get on stage, I always kick butt. The audiences in Europe are quite astounded when they see me perform. I think most of the audiences have come to embrace the African performers. They’re so excited because they can tell right off the bat that our voices have feeling, that the training we have undergone is just one part of the package. We have always expressed ourselves in song, especially during apartheid, so it is a natural part of us and now the rest of the world get to experience that as well.
Upcoming engagements for Dimande will be singing Serena in Cape Town Opera’s upcoming tour of ‘Porgy and Bess’ in the United Kingdom. Future engagements include understudying Ponchielli’s Gioconda at the Rome Opera and singing ‘Aida’ in Caracalla Terme, as well as a Verdi Gala in 2013 with RAI di Torino and Roberto Abbado. Dimande has received several awards and scholarships, including the Rosenborg-Gehrmans Study Scholarship in 2010 and the Swedish Wagner Society’s Bayreuth Scholarship in 2011.
* ‘Fidelio’ is showing at The Castle on March 7, 9 and 10 at 7.30pm nightly. Book at Computicket.