Opera School hits a high note with R5-million Mellon donation

14 October 2002
THE UCT Opera School has received a R5-million Mellon Foundation donation, which will further enhance the School's academic reputation as one of the leading opera institutions in the country, said Chief Executive Officer Professor Angelo Gobbato.

“The flow of exceptional national operatic talent through the School shows that it is recognized as one of the leading opera schools in the country, a reputation that is swelling daily,” he added. But the drastic decrease in state funding for the arts, had created new sets of opportunities and challenges, he added.

“To meet these effectively and efficiently we needed a boost such as this to strengthen and consolidate the existing programmes and to expand the area of postgraduate performance. Our aim is to produce operatic productions that are comparable to international standards.”

Gobbato said he was relieved that the massive fund-raising endeavour had paid off. “We are obviously delighted. But in the same breath, we thank the Mellon Foundation for their support as we know there is a much greater need for the donor community to invest in local science and business endeavours for developmental purposes. So, to achieve this kind of a financial aid in the light of these pressing issues is indeed something to be proud of.”

He also paid tribute to the Development Office for their tireless work in this initiative. “I would like especially to thank Stuart Saunders, without whom this would not have been possible,” he said.

The School hopes to put the funds to work in achieving two major objectives Firstly, the School will strive to make opera more accessible to students who come from historically disadvantaged communities. “The funds will cater for the particular needs of highly gifted vocalists from severely disadvantaged backgrounds; those who have had little, or no musical training, but who demonstrate clear aptitude and the motivation to achieve a professional operatic career.”

Secondly, the School plans to create an Opera Studio Programme that will further enhance its commitment to nurturing and showcasing indigenous opera productions. The School will run this ambitious project jointly with the Cape Town Opera, a non-governmental opera company that Gobbato also chairs.

“This studio will be designed to employ and give operatic performance experience to soloists who have already been trained, or who are in the process of being trained, and will continue the School's tradition of developing new and original South African productions,” he elaborated. He said he hoped that the latter would transform the vocal scene in the country, and vividly demonstrate that the language of opera was “ powerfully felt by South Africans of all race and class”.

“This will help to demystify the widely held myth that opera is predominantly a European music form,” he explained.

“Stories told through voice and music are not the exclusive province of Europeans. For instance, the Ghanaians and Chinese have enjoyed their own operas for decades. But this is a fact that many of us still don't care to admit. Opera is an art form that cuts across cultural divides,” he continued. “The upsurge of black professional opera singers such as Fikile Mvinjelwa, Abel Motsoadi, currently studying at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, Lionel Mtshali, and Sbongile Ngoma, who are the products of the UCT Opera School, are a grand testimony to that.”

However, Gobbato was quick to point out that to succeed in carving a career in opera one had to be exceptionally good. “Opera is a very challenging career. Chances of success are there, but competition is very stiff. But if one works hard enough and is committed, the financial and spiritual rewards are enormous.”

Gobbato is heartened by the fact that opera has starting to claim its stake on the national music landscape. “There is an avalanche of national choir festivals, which are blossoming throughout the country. And there is an explosion of young, determined and exceptionally talented students in other new opera schools in technikons and universities. They are also determined to spread the love of opera and to carve a career in the field.”

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