Friday, November 19, 2010

Hani: A New African Opera Premieres November 21 in Cape Town



A new South African Chamber opera Hani by the creative team of Bongani Ndodana-Breen (composer) and Mfundi Vundla (librettist) reflecting on the values of post-Apartheid South Africa. Would those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the liberation of South Africa, those who died fighting for justice, truth and equality be content with the state of modern South Africa?

Hani is commissioned and presented by Cape Town Opera, UCT Opera School and the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts present, in collaboration with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and with support from the Mellon Foundation.

Opens on Sunday, 21 November, at 18:00 Thereafter 23, 24, 26 and 27 November at 19:00 Baxter Theatre, Cape Town South Africa. Book online through Computicket.


The opera uses the slain anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani as an embodiment of all those who lost their lives fighting injustice. Hani came from humble roots, gave his life to the struggle, was a revered leader in exile who courageously led a group of freedom fighters across the crocodile infested waters of the Zambezi.

His assassination in his driveway by right wing extremists put the country on the precipice of civil war and was the crucial factor that got all parties to commit to a firm date for the first democratic elections.

The opera has 3 solo characters and a chorus. It is set in the dead of the night in the study of a writer (The Librettist) who, in an extended monologue recalls his personal encounter with Hani while in exile in Los Angeles.

The writer enters a dream-like state where he encounters a Soothsayer, an ImBongi (a praise singer) and a chorus of ancestors. Woven in with this metaphor of bravery, sacrifice (Hani), the libretto compares the Masses in our young democracy to the Panther in Rilke’s poem –powerful yet paralyzed.

We are finally asked by the voice of the Soothsayer to reenact an ancient ritual, the Famadihana ceremony of the Merino and Betsileo people of Madagascar, where the corpses of the Razana (ancestors) are removed from their tombs, cleaned and wrapped in a new shroud before becoming guests of honour at a party that may last several days. This, the people believe, will keep the powerful ancestors happy so that they will intervene positively in the earthly life of the family.

Historical Background on Chris Hani

Chris Hani was assassinated on 10 April 1993 outside his home in Dawn Park, a racially-mixed suburb of Boksburg. He was accosted by a Polish far-right immigrant named Janusz Waluś, who shot him in the head as he stepped out of his car.

Waluś fled the scene, but was arrested soon afterwards after Hani's neighbour, a white woman, called the police. Clive Derby-Lewis, who had lent Waluś his pistol, was also arrested for complicity in Hani's murder.

Hani's assassination was part of a plot in to derail the negotiations to end apartheid. Historically, the assassination is seen as a turning point. Serious tensions followed the assassination, with fears that the country would erupt in violence.

Nelson Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm, in a speech regarded as 'presidential' even though he was not yet president of the country: “Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being.

A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin.

The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. ... Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.” –Nelson Mandela


Bongani Ndodana-Breen (Composer)

Composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen has written a wide range of music encompassing symphonic work, opera, chamber music and vocal music. According to The New York Times his “delicately made music - airy, spacious, terribly complex but never convoluted - has a lot to teach the Western wizards of metric modulation and layered rhythms about grace and balance.”

Performers around the world including the Belgian National Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, Kwa Zulu-Natal Philharmonic, New York City’s Vox Vocal Ensemble, MusicaNoir, Chicago’s Cube Ensemble and Ossia.

Ndodana-Breen has received commissions from Wigmore Hall, Vancouver Recital Society, Madam Walker Theatre Indianapolis, SAMRO, UNISA International Violin Competition, the Emancipation Festival of Trinidad & Tobago. Recent commissions include works for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Hong Kong Arts Festival, and the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt for the Haydn 200th anniversary.

Ndodana-Breen,was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 1998. According to Canada’s The Globe and Mail “He seems to be just as interested in giving pleasure as in opening people’s minds… which makes him doubly a novelty on the Toronto New Music scene” (The Globe and Mail, Nov 2001).

Mfundi Vundla (Libretto)

Mfundi Vundla is the sixth child of a family of 11. He was born on 10 September 1946, in Western Native Township, Johannesburg. Mfundi’s mother was a nurse and his father a clerk at the Crown Mines Hospital when they met. Education was always emphasized in the Vundla household.

Mfundi went to primary school in Jo’burg and up until Standard 8 (Form III), he attended school in Healdtown, in the Eastern Cape. He matriculated in Johannesburg at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto.

From there he went on to Fort Hare University and enrolled for a BA in Politics, Philosophy and English. In 1968 he was expelled from the university for underground political activity. Mfundi went into exile in the USA in August 1970.

He continued with his education, remaining an active member of the ANC. In 1972 he completed a BA in Politics and English at the University of Massachusetts, then went on to graduate with a Master’s degree in Education from Boston University. He worked as television writers for David Milch, creator of NYPD Blue and writer for Hill Street Blues.

Along with other South Africans, Mfundi helped found the African Arts Fund which raised money to bring Black, Coloured and Indian South Africans to the United States to study fine arts. In 1993, an opportunity arose to submit a proposal for a soap opera to the SABC. Mfundi created Generations, which has had an enormous impact on South Africans, being the first local television show to focus on the needs, dreams and aspirations of black people.

It is the most popular show on television with the highest ratings across all channels. Now in its 13th year of screening, its popularity continues to grow. In 2000 Mfundi obtained a contract with e-TV for a new youth soap opera, and so Backstage was born.

Mfundi broke new ground with the show, using it to develop and showcase South African talent. Mfundi was also the Executive Producer of the movie In My Country, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche.

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