PETER TROMP chatted to three students of the UCT Opera School who will be starring in ‘Postcard From Morocco’ – MAKUDUPANYANE SENAOANA (23), who will be singing the part of Man With Old Luggage; LITHO NQAI (24), as Lady With Cake Box; and FIKILE PATIENCE MTHETWA (25), as Lady With Hat Box.
What led to you choosing opera as a career path?
Senaoana: I was a part of the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School as a youngster, and in Grade 8 we got the opportunity to perform with Luciano Pavaroti up in Pretoria at Supersport Park. This was in 2005. He was doing his final world tour and somehow the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir was on stage with him, and after that concert I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer. I don’t know if it was just because it was such a huge audience, with Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki sitting in the front, but I knew afterwards that that would be my career path.
Nqai: It wasn’t really a choice for me. It was something I knew was going to happen when I was in primary school. By the time I was in Grade 7, I could sing better than the other children, because I was training myself. During the holidays I’d be watching TV and mimicking what the opera stars were doing, so it became part of my voice. This (choral) music show on SABC1 – ‘Imizwilili’ – really left an impression on me as a child. By the time I got to high school, I fell back a bit because the high school I was at didn’t have music in their curriculum, or even a music teacher. So then I would enter competitions anyway and be there without an accompanist, just belt and sing by myself. So I’d win competitions like that and then one teacher saw me and then grade 11 and 12 I entered a school where I studied music and UCT Opera School followed on from there.
Mthetwa: I didn’t like music at first, but I was forced to sing in choirs during primary school. If we didn’t attend singing classes they would beat us at school. But then while I was in high school there used to be a programme on TV called ‘Imizwilili’ and that’s where I saw Sibongile Khumalo sing, and I started to like opera from that point onwards and decided to study it after school.
How does it feel to be a part of the premiere production of ‘Postcard From Morocco’ in South Africa?
Senaoana: This is not the first production that I’ve been a part of that’s been a premiere in South Africa. There was another production that I did in 2011 called the ‘The Rake’s Progress’ and it was also a modern piece. I mean, it’s always a very different process doing something that’s not performed that much. ‘Postcard’ is not performed that much outside of South Africa either, so it’s a piece that’s very difficult to connect with, because you don’t know what’s coming. Also what makes ‘Postcard’ a little bit more difficult is that it’s an absurdist piece. It doesn’t really have a narrative, so to speak, but it speaks more about certain emotions and highlights certain things within in human character, so that makes it a little bit more difficult to get at the crux of, but it’s a really interesting process to carve it out and see how it comes out, because in the end it’s a very authentic production; something that no other production company out there has probably done before.
Nqai: I’m quite happy being part of a production that almost no one here would be familiar with, because then nobody wouldn’t know what mistakes I’m making (chuckles). It’s very exciting, actually; but it’s quite a challenge, because it’s a very difficult opera. It’s the last week of rehearsals, and I’m still learning new things. The people who are going to be marking us have no clue of what to expect, so I’m like, “Take this. This is what I have for you.” It’s kind of freeing, but also scary at the same time putting something new out there.
Mthetwa: It’s quite an honour, and it’s going to be good on my CV to be a part of a premiere. The fact that it’s so new to us really frees us up to be more creative and almost put our stamp on the final product.
What is your long-term ambition as an opera artist?
Senaoana: I don’t know if my long-term ambition is necessarily as an opera artist. I actually think of myself as an artist that needs to be as versatile as possible. So, I’d like to see myself in the theatres in Europe performing in the operas that are produced there, but at the same time I’d like to see myself as a recording artist performing my own music.
Nqai: The thing is I don’t like not being in South Africa, but I know that for you to have a proper career you need to think with the oversees market in mind, so I’d like to be based in South Africa and work overseas. I’ve toured with Cape Town Opera overseas already, and that would be perfect for me in a career sense.
Mthetwa: I’d love to go to London to perform in the opera house there, so I’m working towards that goal. I really want to be a part of an opera company there.