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Tuesday, July 6, 2010


New venue, new delights, new surprises but still the ever-popular well-supported Starlight Pop Opera with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra again rising to the occasion. (Review by Maurice Kort)

With the FNB continuing its support of the Starlight Pop Opera, this being its 12th year, it is so gratifying to see that the performing arts have not been forgotten with the FNB being one of the major sponsors of the FIFA World Soccer Cup. Much effort had been required to find and organise an alternate venue to the previously used Durban Country Club and full kudos to those involved, including Bongani Tembe. The venue for this year's sumptuous production was therefore the Tongaat Hulett Sugar Chris Saunders Park, a delightful scenic paradise in its own right and now transformed into an ideal setting for any performance as the location is suitably tiered.

The capacity crowd came pouring in to the well-organised venue and event which this year took place on a beautiful balmy day, clear blue sky, and the evening could live up to its starlight theme. Unlike very often in the past, particularly last year when the heavens opened!

Leanne Manas was a most attractive and beautifully spoken MC (Master of Ceremonies) who introduced the various items with great flair and most appropriate comments and anecdotes. There were several dignitaries in the audience including the Provincial Premier and the Deputy Mayor. There was appropriately a minimum of introductory formalities, firstly a short address by Howard Aarons of FNB in which the current World Soccer 2010 was mentioned, including in the context of the annual pop operas. This was followed by the presentation of a cheque from FNB-KZN to Krish Taylor, the CEO of East Coast Radio, the radio partner of the event, for their Winter Warmth campaign.

Leslie Dunner, the American conductor, then mounted the podium and the concert could start in earnest with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, led by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and the Clermont Community Choir. Next was a triumphant (sorry, I couldn't resist it) interpretation, also with the choir, of the Hymn and Triumphal March from Aida.

Very much a family affair, also on the programme, were items by husband and wife Bongani Tembe (Amor ti Vieta and Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific) and Linda Bukhosini (Ave Maria) with the latter being joined by their daughter Nondumiso Tembe in the show-stopping I Know Him So Well from Chess. She also sang an enchanting I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You with Loyiso Bala.

Very popular were virtuoso performances by guitarist Jethro Butow of Tamacum and Parisian Walkways in which he walked into the midst of the large audience to their great delight. Also bringing the house down was Loyiso Bala with Give Me the Night and Shibobo where the audience joined in with dancing in the small open space in front of the stage, assisted by an Instructor and four Diski Dancers to coach, entertain and lead the way. The audience clamoured for more and this was graciously granted. Indeed even Linda Bukhosini and daughter Nondumiso joined in the dancing on stage - no flies on them!

A further highlight of the evening was the appearance of the all-female Cape Town group 3 Tons of Fun, and great fun indeed they were, with their medley (joined by the choir) and the hit I Will Survive. Also stunning was the performance of four young ladies from Zip Zap Circus with their acrobats on ropes and swings high above the orchestra to the accompaniment of the moving and beautiful The Mission by the orchestra.

Interspersed during the evening, Leanne Manus used appropriate references to the World Soccer Cup in her anecdotes and the significance of the Starlight Pop Opera being on the Fourth of July, the American Day of Independence, was not missed. The second half started with the Stars and Stripes Forever by Sousa, always a joy to hear when performed well, as it was. In addition there was a medley of music from the hit musicals in Broadway Tonight. Hearing the likes of These are a Few of my Favourite Things and Try to Remember being given a full orchestral treatment cannot be beaten.

In answer to the audiences clamouring for more, they were treated to an encore of Libbiamo from La Traviata by Linda Bukhosini, Bongani Tembi and Loyiso Bala joined by a most elegant ballroom dancing couple in front of the stage. Joining the traditional fireworks display at the end were a troupe of African Dancers, the surprises and the entertainment never stopped.

The whole organisation is top notch, even to large video screens on each side of the stage with excellent photography tracking the orchestra, artists and events. Long may these Starlight Pop Opera events continue and be as well supported as this one was, especially as a portion of the takings are donated to various charities over the years. – Maurice Kort