CREATIVITY, BEAUTY AND POWER in the midst of COVID-19

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Matthew Wild, Cape Town Opera’s Artistic Director, was undaunted by the dire situation confronting opera six weeks ago when COVID-19 led to the closure of every venue hosting the performing arts.  Without minimizing the gravity of this event, which he describes as ‘striking at the very core of our existence’, Wild has applied his natural dynamism to promoting the continuance of operatic performance both locally and abroad.

April 2020 brought several disappointing cancellations and postponement of overseas productions in which CTO was supposed to participate. Now, as Europe gradually returns to some degree of normality, an exciting prospect before the company is a new version of Porgy and Bess, directed by Wild and featuring CTO’s renowned chorus, to premiere in Vienna in October.

Of greater immediacy is a trio of filmed projects undertaken by the company to gladden the hearts of opera lovers. 

First of these is a recital from the ensemble of soprano Brittany Smith, pianist Jeremy Silver and violinist Refiloe Olifant filmed two weeks ago in the sumptuously Italianate Casa Labia in Muizenberg and launched on June 16.  Its global premiere was made possible through an invitation from Australian Judith Neilson, a generous sponsor of CTO and the driving force of an initiative called Behind Doors, which enables audiences worldwide to experience top class performances at the Phoenix Central Park in New South Wales.  CTO’s Behind Doors online video.

Wild, who directed the imaginative collage of works by Schubert and Strauss and also featuring Mackay Davashe’s ‘Lakutshon’ Ilanga’, was delighted with the artists’ calibre.  ‘They only had one day in which to rehearse before filming, and Jeremy had not had access to a piano since the March lockdown. What they’ve achieved is amazing,’ he comments.

Another filmed project is designed to promote a major cultural endeavour of Cape Town Opera Youth Development and Education (YDE) programme, namely the E-Learning Sing like a Pro project.  With physically engaged coaching for the ABC Motsepe South African Schools Choral Eisteddfod competitions out of the question, videos are being made in a studio in Woodstock to produce 13 learning modules to assist young singers.  The team involved consists of Cape Town Opera singers, director Greg Karvellas, pianist Francois Botha and CTO YDE co-ordinators.  These modules offer a viable alternative to CTO’s National Schools Tour now in its ninth year.   Wild points out that a significant bonus of this project is the greater number of learners who will benefit from it: ‘our touring workshop reached 80 schools and some 2500 learners countrywide in the past, but this will enable many more to access it, and we may continue to go this route after covid-19.’

In two weeks time a further test of Wild’s ingenuity takes the form of a collaboration between CTO and Cape Town City Ballet a filmed performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater which he will direct with musical accompaniment from Camerata Tinta Barocca conducted by Erik Dippenaar. ‘We’re doing it in a huge studio to enable social distancing, with six dancers, two vocalists and ten musicians.  There is much hardware to ensure personal safety, including masks, frequent sanitising and perspex screens, with the floor marked in squares to which each performer is confined.   Choreography is by Mthuthuzeli November via Zoom from London, and it’s a real leap into the unknown,’ remarks Wild.

Cape Town Opera is showing a resilience that proves it takes more than a pandemic to quash the creativity, beauty and power of operatic performance.

By Beverley Brommert