The Lowry will be one of only three UK venues, and the only venue in the North West, to stage Show Boat from Cape Town Opera – winners of the Best International Opera Chorus at the 2013 International Opera Awards.
Cape Town Opera, Africa’s premier opera company, grace The Lowry’s stage for the first time in Show Boat; a rarely performed production which reflects the situation of South Africa’s past while highlighting, through Cape Town Opera’s talents, the bright future ahead.
The story follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River Show Boat, over a forty year period from 1887 to 1927. Show Boat, which premiered on Broadway in 1927, has all the glamour and flourish of a big family musical but with a story that highlights the real life of people at that time, including the racial tensions that they faced.
Cape Town Opera’s South African base is a key training ground for gifted young African singers, many of whom come from South Africa’s poorest communities. Maintaining an impressively varied repertoire of opera, operetta and musicals at home the company also engages widely with rural communities and young people around South Africa.
We spoke to a few members of the Cape Town Opera company and here’s what they had to say…
Can you tell us your full name and where you come from?
OM: My name is Otto Maidi and I’m from Pretoria, South Africa.
Can you tell us a little about your role in Showboat?
OM: I’m playing the slave, Joe, he is the (longest slave on Showboat (so the other black folks found him there) and he has been with the captain and his family from way back when their kids were still small. (In fact they were born on the boat because this is the captain and his business to make shows everywhere he goes.) Joe is the wisest man on the boat, (he’s the oldest among all the blacks there) because of his age and because he has spent most of his life on the boat so it’s the only life he knows. This is why he sings Ol’ Man River as it is like a national anthem for him because it reminds him of so many things. He sees the Mississippi like the Jordan river from the bible as a symbol of freedom. (They don’t have any kids and they both grow old and will probably die on the boat).
We understand you also have a job outside of opera, could you tell us more about your position?
OM: I am a prison guard, currently working with Juveniles. I am second in charge of the section. When I’m asked to sing a role I have to negotiate with my managers and make arrangements.
Hi Magdalene, could you tell us about your role in the show?
Magdalene Minnaar: I play Magnolia, a Southern Belle. She grows up quite naively on a show boat surrounded by actors, dancers and her very controlling mother. She falls in love with a river gambler in the beginning of the show, and the plot follows her story of being left by her husband, all the way until she is reunited with him and her daughter when she is in her 50’s.
How did you come to work with Cape Town Opera?
MM: My relationship with Cape Town Opera began after my studies, when I became a part of the Cape Town Opera Studio where I gained a lot of experience, as part of some amazing productions, totalling about 16 roles. I now freelance and occasionally still do roles with Cape Town Opera.
How does your work fit around your personal life?
MM: I recently had a child, a young son Jacob. I’m a new mom. Let’s just say I had no idea!! Balancing being a mum with singing on tour being a singer is not a walk in the park, but I’m managing! People think I’m crazy to have started work with a 3 month old, plus managing my production company. But I’d go crazy if I didn’t sing but at the same time my baby is everything to me! It’s hard work combining the two but very rewarding.
Hi Lynelle, can you tell us about your role in Showboat and the demands of that role?
Lynelle Kenned: I play the role the role of Julie; she’s an actress and performer on the boat. However, she has a secret that she’s been hiding and that takes her through the whole journey of the show. The decisions that she’s made in order to keep the secret influence how their lives spiral out from that. One of the unexpected challenges that I found was the Fish gotta swim number that everybody performs in. It’s the fact that you have to be dancing throughout the whole song and I haven’t danced before so choreography is very new to me. However I’m really enjoying it now especially with the chorus!
What can audiences expect from Showboat?
LK: Showboat is one of those extravagant performances; it takes your breath away. The absolute magnitude of the set and the costumes are a great example of the opulence of what life of the stage is. Productions like this really encapsulate this, beautiful music and visually it looks stunning! It’s a story that people, especially we as South Africans with our history, can really invest in because it feels so close to home. I think that audience will be able to feel it on a level that’s deeper than an aesthetic level; it touches the soul and really speaks to us as human beings.
Hi Angela, we believe you also have a little one to look after…
Angela Kerrison: Yes, my husband and I are proud parents of a 10 month old baby girl, Nia who was born in August of last year. So far she’s had three long haul flights to date and three shorter flights. Luckily she travels well. I sang my first concert when she was three months old- in Botswana. (I live in Switzerland). I simply did not want to stop singing so combine being a mum with performing. When I got the offer to revisit the role of Julie and tour the UK I couldn’t say no. My husband and I have to do a lot of organising, mainly making sure the baby will be taken care of. For the rehearsals in Cape Town I had my mum fly down for 10 days, my husband took over for the next 10 days and my sister and her family drove down from Gaborone, Botswana to help out as well.
Show Boat starts Tue 8 July, tickets on sale via The Lowry website.