Porgy and Bess move to Soweto

Cape Town Opera has transported Porgy and Bess from South Carolina to South Africa for its latest production, which will be premiered in Britain on 21 October.

The company will perform Gershwin’s opera at the Wales Millennium Centre, London’s Royal Festival Hall in London and Edinburgh's Festival Theatre.

In this new production, Cape Town Opera swaps the segregated American south for apartheid-stricken 1960s South Africa.  The shacks on the outskirts of Charleston are replaced with a building in the Johannesburg township of Soweto that has been taken over by black squatters.

The lyrics remain the same and so Porgy still ends up going all the way to New York to find Bess.  “That makes Porgy’s quest even more monumental — he’s leaving from Soweto to New York and that’s a helluva journey,” laughs Michael Williams, Cape Town Opera’s General Manger.  He believes the transfer to South Africa works well, and ‘adds an interesting take’.

Ntobeko Rwango, Cape Town Opera’s 31-year-old bass baritone who will sing the role of Porgy as well as his arch nemesis, the evil Crown, says the opera is not reliant on race, religion or creed: “Anyone can relate to ‘Porgy and Bess.”  Rwango is just one of the rising stars of Cape Town Opera who are helping dispel the widespread view in South Africa that opera is the preserve of privileged white society.  24-year-old Pretty Yende, who plays Clara, won first prize in several categories of the 2009 Hans Gabor Belvedere International Singing Competition in Vienna and has been inundated with offers from opera studios, managers and agencies.