Johannesburg - It’s a rare thing to see a full orchestra accompanying a production in Johannesburg, and almost impossible to find an opera performed with an almost entirely black lead cast.
Gauteng Opera’s La Bohème pulled out all the stops last week to make it happen, and it was one for the books.
Starring some of the young opera company’s finest, Puccini’s famous masterpiece was left mostly intact. The heart-wrenching tale of love between a poet and his neighbour remains in Italy, save for a few updates to the 19th century sets. As such, the Joburg skyline becomes the backdrop for the five-act production.
The orchestra itself was flawless, though I think it would’ve been better to have it on stage with the cast. It also would’ve helped to mic the performers, who gave their best shot at sticking to the tradition of belting their hearts out – but the acoustics in the Joburg Theatre aren’t exactly opera-house standard.
A major concern though, which is something that Italian opera in South Africa needs to address, is updating some of the lyrics. In my view, it is wholly unacceptable – and I’m sure quite uncomfortable for the performers – to sing lines such as “kiss her pure white neck” when the lead actress is, in fact, black. I understand the need to be true to the original, but if you expect new audiences to buy into what you’re selling, you need to make some adjustments.
But it was a joy to experience, and the theatre was full of a diverse audience, which is a feather in the cap for the wonderful Gauteng Opera.
Venue: Playhouse Opera Theatre, Durban
Dates and Times: August 10: 19:30; August 12: 15:00
Tickets: R100 and R200 via Computicket