“Oh, and mosquitoes! We can’t have the performers swallowing an insect or swatting something away…”

Director ALAN SWERDLOW talked to Whats on In Cape Town about presenting  The Fairy Queen |  Die Feëkoningin ‘al fresco’:

Focus on: The Fairy Queen

A warm summer’s evening … a much-loved classic story … opera under the stars, surrounded by vineyard and the distant silhouettes of mountains against the night sky.  It sounds achingly romantic for the viewer, but how easy is it to produce an opera ‘al fresco’?

We asked director Alan Swerdlow what he and his team have had to take into consideration in mounting The Fairy Queen at Spier Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch.

Spier Amphitheatre
Spier Amphitheatre

”There is a long tradition of outdoor opera performances,” Swerdlow explained, “for which the biggest challenge is an appropriate acoustic environment: both orchestra and singers must be heard to maximum advantage.

Performers’ voices are susceptible to sudden temperature changes and humidity.  And for The Fairy Queen, our orchestra is the Camerata Tinta Barocca, which cannot risk exposing its period instruments to moisture and heat, yet Spier Amphitheatre is built on the banks of a river and exposed to the afternoon sun. Also, since the lighting design is an important part of the visual presentation, we have to wait until the sun has set.

The Spier stage is very wide, a CinemaScope kind of view, and we have to be very careful about sight lines, and it is also very simple, which means the creative team needs to find other ways of providing some of the spectacle that is associated with Grand Opera. Then, of course, we need to have a protocol in place for rain, and how quickly we can cover and protect the instruments, set and costumes.

Oh, and mosquitoes!  We can’t have the performers swallowing an insect or swatting something away…”

Alen Swerdlow directing a Fairy Queen rehearsal
Alen Swerdlow directing a Fairy Queen rehearsal

Cape Town Opera is collaborating with Stellenbosch University’s Music and Drama Departments for the first time on this production for US Woordfees, and award-winning writer Wessel Pretorius has reflected this in the script. Wittily echoing the plot of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, it is set in the music and drama departments of the University, meaning – perhaps for the first time in this opera – many of the characters are Afrikaans.

So yes, says Swerdlow “we have a bit to say about university politics and the new colonialism”, but essentially it is about “personal relationships … a good-natured comic romp.”

Pretorius agrees. He describes Swerdlow’s concept as “very modern and tongue-in-cheek, so no one needs to feel intimidated by the preciousness of classicists when they consider buying a ticket.”

With striking designs by Michael Mitchell, Maritha Visagie and Kobus Rossouw created especially for the Spier Amphitheatre, and choreography by Sibonakaliso Ndaba, Cape Town Opera’s The Fairy Queen is an evening of Baroque opera at its most entertaining, for old hands and opera virgins alike.

Cape Town Opera has arranged a shuttle service, offering return transport from Artscape to Spier, at R100pp. To secure a ride to see The Fairy Queen, email info@capetownopera.co.za. Rides must be confirmed by 1 March 2018.

Performances are scheduled for 3, 4 and 5 March only.