Donato Somma

Faculty / Academic Staff
Opera in South Africa
Intellectual Biography: 

Creating opera in South Africa, or with South African subject matter, poses several questions about the cultural cache that continues to accrue to the genre, the legacies of elitist cultural products and the place of this highly idiosyncratic genre in 21st-century South Africa. The gradual but undeniable growth of opera writing in post-Apartheid South Africa destabilizes notions of what constitutes 'appropriate' media for telling South African stories. Having written on the uses to which opera was put in the context of prisoners of war in South Africa during the Second World War, my publication trajectory has traced the various narrative spaces opened up by this genre. Theorizing the potential of opera to narrativize moments of South African history from a South African perspective, with an opera specialist dealing with black opera in America (Prof Naomi André, UM) and with a Wits scholar interested in the structural incorporation of indigenous idioms with received western practices (Prof Mhlambi) my current project addresses the operatic representation of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the instant of her public appearance at the TRC, a springboard for regression into successively remote parts of her past. The theatrical and ritualistic nature of the proceedings at her hearing and the reassessment of her words and ideas through music in the hands of Bongani Ndodana-Breen, Warren Willensky and Mfundi Vundla have provided rich material for assessing the potential for opera to contain and nuance representations the complexities of South African public political life

Presentation Title: 
"Just Say the Words": An Operatic Rendering of Winnie