Cape Town Opera produced the world premiere of African Songbook: A Tribute to the Life of Nelson Mandela at Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, on 17 June 2010. The work was conceived in celebration of Nelson Mandela in the run up to his 92nd birthday, and to serve as a cultural showpiece concurrent with the 2010 World Cup Soccer tournament in South Africa.
After its premiere, the show’s title was changed to Mandela Trilogy. Since 2004 Cape Town Opera has successfully toured its productions of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, Kern’s Show Boat, and Joplin’s Treemonisha to many opera houses in Europe. Mandela Trilogy is a truly home-brewed production that highlights the unique and forceful sound of the African voice.
Mandela Trilogy employs a unique fusion of traditional Xhosa songs, jazz tunes and modern music in honour of one of the world’s most inspiring statesmen. The work consists of three acts – an encounter with traditional rural music, a jazz musical and an opera – representing the diversity of expression in contemporary South Africa. Composers, Peter Louis van Dijk, Mike Campbell and librettist, Michael Williams, collaborated to musically identify and complement different phases of Mandela’s life, providing three singers with an opportunity to portray the complex aspects of his personality.
Van Dijk explores Mandela’s teenage years setting the first act in rural Qunu, culminating in the young man’s initiation into adulthood and his decision to leave his village for the bright lights of Johannesburg. The jazz musical of the second act – Sophiatown Rising – was composed by Mike Campbell. The vibrant life of 1950s Sophiatown falls under the shadow of the apartheid security forces. The Jig Club dance hall frequented by Mandela is closed down, and its guests are forced to relocate their homes to ever impoverished and distant townships.
The final act is composed as a powerful contemporary opera, music by Peter Louis Van Dijk, on themes of revolution, incarceration and freedom. Mandela Trilogy made its European premier at the Wales Millennium Centre on 18 June 2012. The production was filmed for television and screened on BBC’s SC4 Channel.
The running time of Mandela Trilogy is 140 minutes (including one interval); the libretto is written in Xhosa and English and host language surtitles are provided.
The story begins in Mandela’s birthplace, in the town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. After his initiation into manhood and rejection of a traditional arranged marriage, Mandela decides his future lies beyond the Qunu hills and he flees to Johannesburg.
The narrative continues to act two with Mandela working as a lawyer in the township of Sophiatown, shortly before the Nationalist Party’s forced eviction of the township residents. Mandela’s political education and community leadership role becomes more pronounced during this time, as he rallies black South Africans toward the African National Congress cause.
The story concludes in act three, with the repercussions of the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela’s trial and incarceration, and his eventual release from the infamous Robben Island prison.
From traditional Xhosa choral music, to jazz and jive dancing of the 1950s township dance halls; from struggle songs of the 1980s, to the liberation music of the 1990s, Mandela Trilogy celebrates the vibrant variety of South African music while dramatising the defining moments that shaped Mandela’s life.
17.18 July Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, South Africa
9 – 11 November Dubai Opera, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
17 – 19 November Hong Kong, China
Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna, Italy
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales
Southbank Centre, London, England
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, England
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, Ireland
Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England
The Lowry Theatre, Manchester, England
2014 Deutsches Theater Munich, Germany
2012 Wales Millennium Center, Cardiff, Wales
2010 The Playhouse Theatre, Durban
2010 Montecasino, Johannesburg
2010 Artscape Opera House, Cape Town *
*as African Songbook: A Musical Tribute to the Life of Nelson Mandela
In The Press
the evening’s momentum was unstoppable
one of the great stories of our time
an inspirational journey towards liberation
Mandela Trilogy’ is a brilliant advertisement for Cape Town Opera as a young, efficient ensemble with wonderful singers, almost all of whom are black.
Cape Town Opera’s chorus is quite magnificent.
The Telegraph, UK
South Africa could rescue Opera… returning it to the passion, humanity, and personality that inspired the great operas in the first place.
With increasing applause ending in standing ovations, the audience expresses two sentiments: the enthusiasm for a very entertaining show…and the deeply felt empathy for the aims of black people in South Africa.
The CTO singers can show off their sumptuous voices… “Mandela” is a modern “Folks-Opera” with electrifying choral singing…a very ambitious, highly successful tour de force.
Right from the opening’s sudden siren blare, Williams’s production proceeded so swiftly,so directly, that the evening’s momentum was unstoppable.
The Times, UK
The South African singers and orchestra of Welsh National Opera, conducted by Albert Horne, delivered the package with irresistible full-blooded gusto.
Thanks to Williams’s skilful direction, Michael Mitchell’s luminous designs, and Mike Campbell’s jazz-based score, the fine company hits its stride.
The fine voice of Aubrey Lodewyk, the main Mandela figure, embodies an essential dignity and compassion.
A sexy dose of jazz and the refined strains of Western opera and traditional Xhosasong drive a new opera about South Africa’s former president and anti-apartheidhero Nelson Mandela.
The Washington Times