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Naomi André, Donato Somma and Innocentia Jabulisile Mhlambi, eds ‘New Voices in Black South African Opera’ African Studies, vol. 75, no. 1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2020

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Summary

South African opera scholarship is burgeoning. In recent years, the work of researchers such as Hilde Roos, Juliana M. Pistorius and Lena van der Hoven, among many others, has ensured the field's prominence within music studies in the country and has carved out a significant space for it within international academe. It is a body of work that has arisen in response to the immense successes of South African opera practitioners both locally and abroad, and the complex questions of identity, political economy and geo-politics that their art engenders.

A seminal contribution to this field is the 2016 African Studies Special Cluster, ‘New Voices in Black South African Opera’, convened by Naomi André, Donato Somma and Innocentia Jabulisile Mhlambi. The cluster focuses largely on Winnie: The Opera, which was premiered in 2011 at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria. With music by Bongani Ndodana-Breen and a libretto by Mfundi Vundla and Warren Wilensky, the opera presents various moments in the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, framed within a portrayal of her testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. It is a potent political piece that has been cast in an artistic medium that bears volatile colonialist and apartheidera connotations. The dramatic – but also historical and social – potential of the opera makes it a compelling lens through which to consider some of the field's most pressing questions. The cluster comprises an introduction and three articles by the convenors. It concludes with an abridged transcript of a discussion between Somma and composer Neo Muyanga, who has recently emerged as a significant figure in the country's opera scene.

Andre's contribution to the cluster, ‘Winnie, Opera, and Artistic Nationhood’, is concerned with the opera's broad-ranging entanglements. Her article provides a number of intriguing contextual frames through which to read the work: it is intimately bound up with project of nation-building in post-apartheid South Africa, yet it can also be tied to broader discourses of operatic nationalism in nineteenth-century Europe and musical politics in twentieth-century North America.

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African Theatre 19
Opera & Music Theatre
, pp. 258 - 262
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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