Established in 1999, Cape Town Opera is the only opera company in Africa with a year-round programme. The award-winning Cape Town Opera Chorus is world renowned, and will return to the RMB Starlight Classics stage this March.
Not for nothing is Cape Town Opera (CTO)’s Chorus regarded as the jewel in the company’s crown: this is attested by the ensemble’s being named ‘Chorus of the Year’ by the 2013 International Opera Awards; by spontaneous accolades from the likes of Placido Domingo (when he heard them perform in Madrid in 2015 in Porgy and Bess), eulogies from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and William Kentridge, and high praise from successive guest conductors and directors visiting this country to assist in staging Cape Town Opera productions.
Behind every successful opera chorus is a committed and determined chorus master. The present incumbent is Marvin Kernelle, who has occupied this position since August 2014 when he took over from Albert Horne. Under Horne’s direction, the CTO Chorus won the enviable title of ‘Chorus of the Year’, and it is with commendable modesty that Kernelle talks of ‘big shoes to fill’. He is well qualified to assess his current role, since he was himself a member of the Chorus – initially as an ad hoc singer and then from 2012 on a permanent basis. This means that he was trained by the very maestro whose legacy he inherited.
What makes CTO’s Chorus so exceptional, apart from the obvious beauty, colour and strength of their voices? Kernelle does not have to think for long. ‘It’s their incredible versatility,’ he replies. ‘Not just the various genres that they can perform with equal ease – opera, jazz, spirituals and traditional hymns – but also their linguistic ability. For example, they are taking African Passion to Germany this April, singing in German, Latin, English and Afrikaans. They are also performing the Argentinian Misa Criolla in Spanish. Later in the year, they will offer a reprise of Grace Notes, then they will join the UCT Opera Chorus in a production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi, sung of course in Italian. All this entails considerable rehearsal time, and when there are several different projects simultaneously on the go, they divide into two groups, each working for four hours a day. I train them for eight hours altogether, and we have to enlist the participation of ad hoc singers to help out, depending on the requirements of the music.’
Thus the ensemble moves seamlessly from bel canto to the transparency of sacred music, to the earthiness of jazz. Elise Brunelle, CEO of Cape Town Opera, confirms this enviable quality of the company’s ensemble:
‘I know of no other chorus that sings in such a wide variety of languages – from Czech, French and German to Swahili, Xhosa and English – with such power and clarity. The singers are proficient across genres, from opera, musical theatre and sacred music, and their uniquely rich voices are unmatched.’
This sums up the stellar Chorus best.
To read more about Cape Town Opera Chorus and the line-up at this year’s RMB Starlight Classics, purchase the March 2019 issue of Creative Feel or continue supporting our role in the South African arts and culture industry by subscribing to our monthly magazine from only R180.00 per year!