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Friday, December 17, 2010


(Soprano Beverley Chiat)

Innovative and refreshing look at opera at Catalina. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Conceived by Themi Venturas and scripted by Dhaveshan Govender, Opera Exposed is an innovating and refreshing experience at Catalina Theatre and is well worth a visit.

Under the skilful direction of Clare Mortimer, this is an entertaining production which combines well-known operatic music with the elements of drama in the setting of an opera performance as seen through the eyes of two flymen*: the long-suffering Themba played by Loyiso MacDonald and Saggie (Govender himself). However, with a jibe at the state of the performing arts in general in South Africa, funding is difficult to come by and everyone has to pitch in, even doing stage-hands’ work like sweeping the floor. Audiences get a glimpse of the organised chaos that happens backstage and in scene changes.

*For those not familiar with theatre jargon, flymen are the people who operate above the stage in large theatres, pulling the ropes that literally “fly” scenery up and down to the stage.

The opera “performance” is well-presented by three of South Africa’s top names in this music genre: soprano Beverley Chiat, bass baritone Otto Maidi and tenor Dewald Von Solms. Between them they present some of the most beautiful – and most popular – operatic numbers ranging from Quando me n’vo (La Bohème), Libiamo (La Traviata); O mio babbino caro (Gianni Schicchi) and Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute) alongside numbers from Porgy and Bess (I got plenty of nothin’), Carousel (You’ll never walk alone) and Showboat (Ol’ Man River).

Themba and Saggie engage in amusing banter as they go about their business of moving sets, setting up rostra and props before returning to their perch in the fly tower. Saggie’s idea of beauty is Aishwarya Rai while Themba’s dream of perfection is a Ferrari. There are some hilarious lines especially when Saggie – a fanatic soccer fan - gives his take on opera and considers that if it wasn’t for sport, there’d be no opera! This gives range to delicious wordplay nonsense and a natural lead into Nessun Dorma.

There is a screen which is only used twice during the show: in the first half to portray male and female newsmakers and in the second with images of war, violence and unrest to accompany Va pensiero from Nabucco. However, I couldn’t help wishing that the screen could be covered in some way when not in use, as it became a distracting element when one wanted to concentrate on the singers. The set is simple and effective with cut-out shapes depicting a city skyline. There’s also a delightful aspect to Gloria all’Egitto from Aida. I won’t spoil the surprise but much kudos to the creators of this imagery, camels and all.

Congratulations to Catalina Theatre with the continued support of Rainbow Chicken and the Ethekwini Municipality for surviving the bleak financial times and continuing to present ground-breaking work.

Opera Exposed runs at the Catalina Theatre until December 19 with shows at 20h00, an extra earlier performance on Saturday at 17h00 and Sunday at 14h00 and 18h00). Tickets R90 (R60 matinees). Early booking is advised on 031 305 6889 or at – Caroline Smart