MANDELA TRILOGY. Book and lyrics: Michael Williams. Original director : Michael Williams. Revival director : Alan Swerdlow. Music Act 1 and 3: Peter Louis van Dijk. Music Act 2: Mike Campbell. at the Artscape Opera House
• 25 Jul 2018
• Orielle Berry reviews
PORTRAYAL: Aubrey Lodewyk as the mature Mandela and Philisa Sibeko as Winnie in the Mandela Trilogy.
THE story of our greatest political icon Nelson Mandela is an inspiring one – and the Mandela Trilogy an ambitious project. One cannot imagine a more appropriate export to relate our recent story than one like this, particularly in light of what it showcases through song and dance and drama – the birth of democracy in our country.
The three-part opera has already played to receptive audiences in Dubai, Hong Kong, Cardiff, Ravenna and Munich, among others, and now pays tribute to the centenary legacy of this great man on home soil. Staged for only two days last week to coincide with Mandela Day and in turn Mandela Month, this story reminds us once again of what has been sacrificed to arrive at our freedom.
In the programme notes, writer Michael Williams explains how he planned the opera to coincide with the opening the Fifa World Cup in 2010. Mandela was invited to the opera but never attended although he was sent a recording. One wonders what he would have thought of this large-scale homage to his life. The opera has been revived and slightly changed but what remains is how our home-grown talent absolutely shines in an all-star cast.
The trilogy upon which the opera is premised takes us through three phases of Madiba’s life – his boyhood, initiation and comingof-age in the former Transkei, his development as a political activist in Johannesburg, leading to his imprisonment and his years behind bars and ultimate release.
Each part of this musically and dramatically diverse opera offers defining moments. It could make for a disjointed whole but the golden thread that runs through it is how it unpacks the character and the struggles of Madiba – moulded not only by the harsh events of the day but by his relationship with his first wife, Evelyn, with Winnie and with his mother.
The audience is up for a varied programme as much in the different moods presented in each act as in the music – which moves from opera and traditional Xhosa sounds through to the jazz and the sultry sounds that were heard in Sophiatown, to the more sombre operatic music dominating the third and final act which largely focuses on Mandela’s incarceration.
There is much to laud – the choreography is virtually faultless as the scenes morph from the rural Transkei where one can almost smell the cow dung and the red earth as elders and initiates dance and move in synchronised union. This, to the smoky bar scenes in Sophiatown where the men and women leave their deep troubles outside as they jive to the sounds of Dolly and other jazz luminaries of the time. Then to the austere prison scenes on Robben Island where men are seen chipping away in the quarry, as they go about their back-breaking, menial punishment. It all evokes a unique authenticity – which coupled with superb stage design makes for a real visual treat.
Aubrey Lodewyk shines as the mature Madiba – as much for his stylised operatic skills as in the way he portrays Mandela in the run-up to his release and in his interaction with family and friends. Skilled soprano Cecilia Rangwanasha also shines as Madiba’s mother. Of her I would have liked to see more of on stage, as listening to her honeyed tones was a sheer delight. There are two Winnies, and on the night I was there she was played by the talented Philisa Sibeko – her development from devoted but politically astute wife to the besieged Winnie are very well portrayed and the prison scene in which she and Mandela argue it out about the transition of her behaviour is almost heart-breaking in what it represents. (The other Winnie was played by Siphamandla Moyake.)
Edith Plaatjies plays Dolly in an absolutely sterling performance – she becomes and is the shebeen queen, the singer and woman hardened to what life dishes out as she hears of the forced removed from Sophiatown to Meadowlands.
There are many other superb performances, all making up a production that provides a window into the world that this shining beacon was moulded by, and himself, made. It’s inspirational and heart-warming. Hopefully the show will return to Cape Town stages in the near future.