Award-winning director Marthinus Basson will launch Cape Town Opera’s 2017 season with a contemporary staging of Verdi’s Rigoletto that places Verdi’s universal themes in an African context. There are only four performances of what promises to be a fresh, exciting and gritty take on ‘Rigoletto’ – on February 11, 14, 16 and 18, with bookings now open through Computicket.
Metropolitan Opera regular Fikile Mvinjelwa returns to Cape Town to perform the title role. A founder member of the Cape Town Opera Studio, Mvinjelwa left South Africa to pursue a successful international career. Some opera fans might recall his performance of ‘Rigoletto’ in 2008 at Athlone’s Joseph Stone Auditorium. Mvinjelwa understudied Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera in the 2008/2009 season and it is a role to which he often returns.
Basson, who first worked with Mvinjelwa more than 20 years ago at the outset of his career, says: “It’s truly inspiring to reconnect with Fikile now that he’s so accomplished and successful.”
Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition finalist Lukhanyo Moyake sings the role of the Duke of Mantua. Moyake had a 2016 to remember: he won the International Emmerich Smola-Förderpreis in Baden-Baden, Germany and travelled to Portugal in September to sing the role of José in ‘Carmen’ at the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos.
Noluvuyiso Mpofu takes the role of Gilda. Since stealing audiences’ hearts with her portrayal of Violetta in ‘La traviata’ in 2015, Mpofu has gained a large local support base, and was awarded the Audience Prize, as well as Second Prize, at the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in 2016. This is the last chance to see Mpofu perform as a member of Cape Town Opera as, following ‘Rigoletto’, she will launch her freelance international career.
Profile of lead baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa
South Africa’s foremost baritone returns for a guest performance in the title role of ‘Rigoletto’.
For the past eight years, Fikile Mvinjelwa has been a card-carrying member of The Metropolitan Opera, New York. It represents the pinnacle of achievement for any opera singer. During his time at the Met, Mvinjelwa has been involved in productions of ‘Aida’, ‘Francesca da Rimini’, ‘Rigoletto’ and ‘Attila’ under maestro Riccardo Muti.
Local audiences will remember Mvinjelwa’s powerful voice and dramatic performances in Cape Town Opera productions as ‘Nabucco’, ‘Macbeth’, Amonasro in ‘Aida’, Tonio in ‘Pagliacci’, Enrico in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and di Luna in ‘Il trovatore’, which drew standing ovations and critical acclaim.
Despite his dedicated local following, when Mvinjelwa left the country in January 2009 he was already in his 40s. He attributes his late-blooming success to the high calibre of training that he received in South Africa from the likes of Angelo Gobbato, Ean Smit and Kamal Khan, remarking that Metropolitan singing coach Craig Rothenberg did not have to make any major corrections to his technique. Gobbato taught Mvinjelwa impeccable Italian, essential for roles in the great Italian operas. In addition, Mvinjelwa says Gobbato taught him to express drama through his voice by talking while singing.
He attributes his singing finesse to maestro Kahn, who is also making a guest appearance as the conductor for ‘Rigoletto’. Mvinjelwa still studies regularly with maestro Khan and says: “He is a maestro de canto who understands the voice and Italian. When you’re singing, he’s singing with you. It’s easy to work with him.”
Besides good training, Mvinjelwa’s longevity as a singer can be attributed to hard work and the willingness to remain an eternal student. In the ‘Rigoletto’ rehearsal room, he is focused, still asking questions about how to sing a role to which he has returned many times. As he says: “You learn something every day. One thing you have to do is hang in there. You must be hungry all the time. You never stop learning because you never know when the opportunity comes.”
Mvinjelwa believes that, as a performer, he has improved with age: “Acting and singing are like wine; they mature: 20 years ago I was using too much energy. Now I’m much calmer and know how to approach things better.”
In South Africa, he observes, besides Violina Anguelov, there is a dearth of seasoned singers who can act as role models and mentors. After ‘Rigoletto’, Mvinjelwa will teach a master class to the young singers of Cape Town Opera’s Studio.
He is relishing working with Marthinus Basson on a ‘Rigoletto’ that is set in Africa, and is enjoying his time with the young and talented cast. “There are two great young singers in this production of ‘Rigoletto’ – Noluvuyiso Mpofu (Gilda) and Lukhanyo Moyake (Duke of Mantua). If they focus they will make it.”
Mvinjelwa looks forward to performing on his local stage: “You always miss home and the audiences who really know you. I started my life at Artscape and I’ve missed Cape Town.”
Q&A with director Marthinus Basson
What do you like about working with Cape Town Opera?
I find it very inspiring to work with such a host of dedicated and talented singers who are willing, able and open to try out anything you throw at them. It is very pleasant to be blessed with infrastructure, technical support and friendly faces from people who take their jobs seriously enough to work hard and enjoy it at the same time.
What inspires you the most about ‘Rigoletto’?
The music of course is beautiful. But the themes are shockingly fresh and apt for the society we live in: money, misogyny, prejudice, power…meaty material to work with.
What is your biggest challenge in directing ‘Rigoletto’?
Verdi really loads info into very compact and dense sections going at a cracking pace. I hope that I will be able to lay the foundation as clearly and solidly as possible for everybody, cast and audience, to build a worthy house on.
Is there any difference in the way that you approach directing an opera from directing theatre?
Opera has very distinct needs and limitations (sound production, distance from audience, contact with the conductor, and of course not that much freedom with the music setting tone and pace), but beyond that the concerns for a play and a sung production remain pretty much the same: meaning, insight, emotional truth and clarity.
Which other productions of ‘Rigoletto’ have inspired/annoyed you?
I am a terrible person. I will not watch a production that is good if I feel it will block me. I prefer watching productions I struggle with because it helps me identify what I like and do not like and what I should try and avoid. I watched two in preparation I disliked much, but prefer not to tell because it would be very rude…Later I will look at one that I thought I might really like and weep for falling short. Such is life…
You have contemporised the setting of ‘Rigoletto’. What parallels can be drawing between Renaissance Italy and contemporary South African society.
I think human nature is pretty set and sophistication only a very thin veneer. When I was a schoolboy I started reading the Roman classics and satires. From that I learnt that have not really changed much over 2000 years, only our technology. The themes of power, money, corruption, abuse, misogyny and prejudice we struggle with now are all part and parcel of the fabric of ‘Rigoletto’.
Make it an operatic Valentine’s Day to remember
An elegant night at the opera is the ideal Valentine’s date.
To add a further touch of romance to a special evening on Tuesday, February 14, enjoy a platter of fresh sushi accompanied by a glass of chilled Simonsig’s Kaapse Vonkel served in the Opera Bar during an extended, 30-minute interval.
R180 per couple, excluding opera ticket (R100 to R400) and available only to ‘Rigoletto’ ticket holders.
Book through Computicket.
* This production is unsuitable for under 16s.