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Cape Town Opera: Rising to the occasion during a milestone year

By Keith Bain

The results of a collaborative creative village

     Each production is the culmination of not just one artist’s contribution to the evolution of culture, but the coming together of a creative village: Beyond singers drawn from across the country, there are orchestras, dancers and choreographers, set designers and carpenters, costumiers and wig-makers, lighting designers and video artists, and many more.
     Aside from this multiplicity of talent, there’s an unseen team of managers and organisers making the plans and schedules and budgets that enable such vast collaborative efforts to happen.
     And, while CTO is a non-profit organisation whose existence is possible thanks to the support of donors, it has been able to extend its reach and impact by adapting its business model to include an energetic international touring schedule. Shows like African Angels, Porgy and Bess, Mandela Trilogy and African Prophetess have marked CTO as a cultural ambassador while showcasing South Africa’s enormous and unique singing talent to the world.
    ‘Touring shifted the dynamic, opening up many new horizons, enabling overseas partnerships and longstanding donor relationships that are very important to us,’ says Smith.
     Those international connections have extended the company’s financial latitude, not only making it a significant economic contributor but ensuring that its staff remained secure during lockdown.
     ‘This company has put R350 million back into the local economy,’ says Smith. ‘Last year alone we put back R12.7 million. This is by employing people – not just the artists and musicians who are vital to what we do – but seamstresses, designers, set-builders, technicians, people who box our sets and send them overseas when we’re on tour. There’s a whole hive of activity around putting on an opera. So, while we’re a good investment in the cultural heritage of South Africa, we’re also good for business.’

Kickstarting careers and putting untrained voices on a professional path

     It’s not all about economics though, nor about treating foreign audiences to South African voices. CTO’s reputation is as Africa’s premier opera company, known – apart from kickstarting global careers – for identifying and fostering talent within local communities. It runs singing clinics and outreach projects, and finds raw talent, putting untrained voices on a professional path.
     And apart from performing classic European operas, CTO stages fiery choral showcases that include songs in African languages, and is involved in the development of new South African work as part of a burgeoning oeuvre of indigenous opera. It also cross-pollinates within the global talent pool, collaborating on world-class productions, and hosting international soloists.

Continue reading Cape Town Opera: Charting a new course amidst a global pandemic

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