Monday, August 22, 2011 'KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra is in fine fettle' in 'Mandela Trilogy'

[Aubrey Poo and Gloria Bosman]
Christina Kennedy
Published: 2011/08/18
“TACKLING a political subject on stage can translate into pure gold — or sheer suicide. But in the case of the Mandela Trilogy, the gamble has paid off richly, resulting in an impressive entertainment product of export quality. A triptych of musical vignettes highlighting defining periods in Madiba’s life, this Lottery-funded Cape Town Opera production is on at the Montecasino Teatro in Johannesburg until tomorrow (Friday August 19), having also completed a run in Durban.

“Michael Williams’s stirring libretto traces the journey of a person who seems so familiar to us, yet who may in fact be an enigma: we tend to allow our image of the icon to eclipse our view of the man, the husband, the father, the flawed human being. Williams has written a well-rounded — yet, thankfully, not too comprehensive — musical biography, spicing up the familiar episodes with lesser-known nuggets, such as the time Mandela was taken on a drive through the Cape by his wardens and briefly contemplated escaping.”
“It was a stroke of genius to commission three different composers to musically illustrate three different chapters in Mandela’s life, keeping the audience’s interest piqued as the styles segue from jazz to opera to choral to township jive. Allan Stephenson expertly arranged traditional Xhosa songs for the Qunu Oratorio segment, Mike Campbell scored the Sophiatown Rising scenes (including tracks by the Manhattan Brothers, Miriam Makeba, Todd Matshikiza and Strike Vilakazi), and Péter Louis van Dijk wraps up matters in rousing fashion with the operatic Prison Years act.”

“It is a sensitive and evocative re-imagining of the Mandela legend, performed by an amazing company (who dance really well, too). The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra is in fine fettle under the baton of Albert Horne, and the show is further enhanced by film projections and Michael Mitchell’s inventive sets and costumes.” “This large-scale production may be an odd hybrid of styles, but it succeeds handsomely. Tenderly written and performed, and completely immersive, the Mandela Trilogy is a commendable tribute to the man behind the statesman.

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