This May, Cape Town Opera (CTO) will present George Bizet’s masterful French opera The Pearl Fishers at Artscape, with an all-star cast led by Bel canto tenor Levy Sekgapane in his debut as Nadir.
Sekgapane is one of South African opera’s great success stories. Together with Pretty Yende, he is the only other South African opera singer to have won Plácido Domingo’s prestigious Operalia competition (2017) and his homecoming is hugely anticipated by opera buffs and classical music lovers alike.
From 10 to 14 May, the highly anticipated season of The Pearl Fisher returns two years after pandemic restrictions prevented the first full run of the production and, on 13 May, the production features CTO soloist and celebrated tenor Lukhanyo Moyake reprising his role as Nadir. Fellow CTO soloists, Conroy Scott and Brittany Smith, recent winners of the Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Best Male and Best Female Performance in an Opera, will perform as Zurga and Leïla respectively, with CTO’s Judith Neilson Young Artist, Reuben Mbonambi, taking the role of Nourabad. The cast will be joined by the Cape Town Opera Chorus, directed by company Chorus Master Marvin Kernelle, and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Adam Szmidt with original set and costume design by Michael Mitchell and lighting design by Faheem Bardien.
Bizet’s three-act 1863 opera is a tale of passion, betrayal and sacrifice. Originally set in ancient Ceylon, The Pearl Fishers centres around a tragic love triangle between two fishermen, Nadir and Zurga, and their love for the same woman, the priestess Leïla. Lifelong friends, their brotherly camaraderie and friendship pact is crowned by one of opera’s most well-known and rousing tenor-baritone duets, ‘Au fond du temple saint’, but their rivalry over Leïla, who finds herself conflicted by her love and sacred vows, almost tears them apart.
CTO’s The Pearl Fishers is a semi-staged production that focuses on a core storyline and Bizet’s glorious music. It will once again be directed by Elisabeth Manduell with Matthew Wild’s original concept enhanced by exquisite imagery from celebrated artist Shakil Solanki, whose work has been a source of great inspiration for Manduell’s 2023 staging. Solanki’s series of vivid artworks, rendered in his signature blue palettes, encapsulates the depth and turmoil between the opera’s characters, inviting the audience to immerse themselves in a dreamlike world.
“In The Pearl Fishers, we aren’t looking at a stage with traditional sets and props,” explains Manduell, “but rather at a canvas on which we can set the scenes that illuminate onstage personalities and emotions. Matthew [Wild] has succeeded in elevating the semi-staged concept into a rich and wonderful space to explore.”
The Pearl Fishers, proudly supported by The Western Cape Government Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, and the National Arts Council, is sung in French with English and isiXhosa surtitles. Performances run at the Artscape Theatre from 10 to 14 May 2023 with bookings now open through Computicket or 0214217695.