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Help fly in a mixed-race Fairy Queen from South Africa

Our colleague Shirley Apthorp helped create Purcell’s Fairy Queen in the townships last summer and now has invitations to fly the cast to Europe.

But money’s short and she needs help to get the opera restaged before it can be seen around the world. Here’s what she writes:


Our 2012 staging of Purcell’s “Fairy Queen”, in a production that looks at themes of gender and identity, was a great thrill for the participants.  We work on a principle of eye-level encounter, with learning and skills exchange at all levels, from orchestra pit to direction and design.  The young people come with the most unbelievable energy, commitment, and optimism – it’s humbling, and what they achieve is extraordinary.
We’re applying for German government funding to bring the production to Germany in January 2014 – we won’t know till April how our application goes, but the kids are already packing their suitcases and learning German.  They’re determined to come, so failure’s not really an option. Meanwhile, we’re battling terribly to scrape together the funds we need to re-work the production for a bigger Township audience in Cape Town – an essential part of our work.
Why do opera, one of the most expensive artforms there is, in some of the poorest communities of South Africa?  It’s a question I ask myself every year as we struggle to scrape together the funds we need for our productions and workshops.  But I know the answer.  It’s not our idea that the young people should perform opera. It’s theirs. Hundreds of thousands of South African teenagers are singing opera every day out there, with a passion and enthusiasm you can’t imagine.  They’re networked through the national choir competitions; I went to the finals once and witnessed ten thousand teenagers singing things from Ascanio in Alba, Tannhäuser, Cosi fan Tutte, etc for each other – and all of them know every note, and care about it with ferocious intensity. But most of them have never sung with a piano, learned to read music, or seen a live opera performance, even though they all dream of one day becoming the next Pretty Yende, Njabulo Madlala, or Luthando Quave.  That’s why we do what we do – to give them a chance to take their talent a step further, to open dialogue with international partners, and to do what we can in terms of social change through opera – a surprisingly effective way of teaching young adults self-awareness and social consciousness.
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