Cape Town Opera produced the world premiere of African Songbook: A Tribute to the Life of Nelson Mandela at Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, on 17 June 2010. The work was conceived in celebration of Nelson Mandela in the run up to his 92nd birthday, and to serve as a cultural showpiece concurrent with the 2010 World Cup Soccer tournament in South Africa. After its premiere, the show’s title was changed to Mandela Trilogy.
Since 2004 Cape Town Opera has successfully toured its productions of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, Kern’s Show Boat, and Joplin’s Treemonisha to many opera houses in Europe. Mandela Trilogy is the newest addition to its touring repertoire, a truly home-brewed production that highlights the unique and forceful sound of the African voice.
Mandela Trilogy employs a unique fusion of traditional Xhosa songs, jazz tunes and modern music in honour of one of the world’s most inspiring statesmen. The work consists of three acts – an encounter with traditional rural music, a jazz musical and an opera – representing the diversity of expression in contemporary South Africa. Composers, Peter Louis van Dijk, Mike Campbell and librettist, Michael Williams, collaborated to musically identify and complement different phases of Mandela’s life, providing three singers with an opportunity to portray the complex aspects of his personality.
Van Dijk explores Mandela’s teenage years setting the first act in rural Qunu, culminating in the young man’s initiation into adulthood and his decision to leave his village for the bright lights of Johannesburg. The jazz musical of the second act – Sophiatown Rising - was composed by Mike Campbell. The vibrant life of 1950s Sophiatown falls under the shadow of the apartheid security forces. The Jig Club dance hall frequented by Mandela is closed down, and its guests are forced to relocate their homes to ever impoverished and distant townships.
The final act is composed as a powerful contemporary opera, music by Peter Louis Van Dijk, on themes of revolution, incarceration and freedom.
Mandela Trilogy made its European premier at the Wales Millennium Centre on 18 June 2012. The production was filmed for television and screened on BBC’s SC4 Channel.
The running time of Mandela Trilogy is 140 minutes (including one interval); the libretto is written in Xhosa and English and host language surtitles are provided.