Opera is alive and well and one of the most successful musical exports from South Africa to the world. So says acclaimed conductor and cellist and Classic FM radio host, Kutlwano Masote.
On Friday this week, Kutlwano will conduct South African opera soloists Kelebogile Besong and Golda Schultz, as they perform some of the best known and loved opera soprano arias at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg. Both Besong and Schultz live in Germany and this is the first time they will have the opportunity to perform for a South African audience.
“Opera is a very aspirational musical art form in South Africa. If you are a successful church choir singer from the townships, you usually end up at UCT opera school, followed by a scholarship to go and study overseas and then you work in Germany or Italy,” he said this week.
Friday’s concert in Johannesburg marks the third year that Masote and his wife Ma-Setlogelo are staging an operatic soiree in Johannesburg under their arts platform Web Maestro. Three years ago Web Maestro bought soloist Pretty Yende back to South Africa for her first performance at home and they have found an increasing appetite for opera galas of this nature.
He describes Friday night’s programme as “more of a T20 than a five day test”. With a programme consisting of some of the best-known operatic arias, he says it is an accessible highlights package of some of opera’s most beautiful pieces of music.
“Opera continues to entertain as one of the campest, most dramatic forms of classical music,” Masote says.
Opera continues to entertain as one of the campest, most dramatic forms of classical music
Although, as a cellist, Masote comes from more of a symphonic and orchestral background, he has a particularly soft spot for any opera by Giacomo Puccini.
“He wrote towards the end of the 19th century, when the verismo or realistic style of opera made for a relatively modern type of music,” he says.
For any newcomers to the world of opera, Masote recommends starting the voyage of discovery with Puccini’s La Bohème, a universal story about friendship, youth and ill-fated love. “It’s impossible not to love this story of young people living a bohemian lifestyle.”
He is particularly excited about this week’s concert, not only because it offers Johannesburg opera lovers an opportunity to experience the world’s best soprano arias but that it creates a platform for these two South African artists working abroad, to show off their talent at home.
So many talented South Africans leave this country on a scholarship and seldom manage to come home and perform for their countrymen, he said.
Asked about the opportunity to return to the Linder Auditorium stage, Besong said: “I have been blessed to enjoy a successful international career but not sharing music with the South African audience always leaves an empty space.”
In the last four months, Golda Schultz has made debut appearances at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall as well as Wigmore Hall in London. Performing in Johannesburg means just as much as all the other famed concert venues: “There are no words to describe how excited I am to sing in Joburg. It’s a dream come true!”
Golda Schultz [Soprano] Puccini extrait Arte 2016 11 06
Conductor Masote will be on the podium this Friday, directing the Chamber Orchestra of Johannesburg with the two soloists. Highlights of the programme include Ritorna vincitor from Verdi’s Aïda, the Czardas from Strauss Die Fledermaus, Micaela’s aria from Bizet’s Carmen and the duet Belle Nuit from Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach.