Pictured clockwise from back left: Linda Nteleza, Reuben Mbonambi, Arthur Swan, Charlotte Mhlongo, Thando Mjandana;
Thursday 5 September 2019 marks the birth of a ground-breaking new initiative on South Africa’s cultural scene - with the launch of Ubuntu Opera Company. The company is mandated to create a professional platform for South African opera singers to build their careers in their home county, without having to seek work abroad.
The new company will be spearheaded by Juan Burgers, one of this country’s most highly regarded and diversely proficient music creatives, and the force behind the unique new development venture.
Burgers, uniquely talented pianist, choral director, opera coach and voice teacher, will work with a board of directors, to produce South African indigenous operas, as well as presenting regular world operatic repertoire, with a view to creating sustainable employment in our almost defunct operatic industry. The company’s maiden production in the new year, will be its namesake opera, the Mandela-themed magnum opus, Ubuntu – The Opera, composed by Burgers himself in 2014. The work’s world premiere in 2015 drew widely affirmative critical response, most notably from Durban’s Professor Christopher Ballantine, South African correspondent for the internationally prestigious British magazine, Opera, who hailed the work as the country’s most important creative tribute to Mandela since 1994.
“Sponsorship is a core element of the operation of our new Ubuntu Opera company” says Burgers. “It is our mission to offer a sustainable showcase for the wealth of legendary operatic talent that is part of our country’s cultural DNA.”
“It is our intention to provide skilled technical and artistic training while enabling our new generation of singers, who are hungry for the opportunity to put the world’s most thrilling and exalted art form into practice, and to exercise their talent before our own, South African audiences. Our country is known throughout the world for its unrivalled wealth of great voices. We have the potential to be a magnate for cultural tourism, attracting international opera-goers to our shores. Given a chance, this can and must happen! At present, our young South African singers are forced to find employment abroad, or change career in order to survive. This has to change. Ubuntu Opera Company will be at the vanguard of the move to bring opera home to South Africa.”
A fund-raising concert, presented in support of Ubuntu Opera Company, will be held at Christ Church in Constantia, Cape Town, on Thursday 5 September, starting at 19h30. The programme will kick off with highlights from operas drawn from the international repertoire. The second half of the programme will be devoted to eight extracts from the acclaimed South African oper, Ubuntu, composed by Burgers in 2015.
The line-up of singers set to appear in Ubuntu Opera Company’s launch concert on 5 September will include tenors Thando Mjandana and Arthur Swan, baritone Theo Magongoma, sopranos Linda Nteleza and Charlotte Mhlongo, and impressive newcomer Reuben Mbonambi, bass. Juan Burgers will be accompanist for the event.
Tickets to Ubuntu Opera Company’s launch concert on 5 September are R120 per person, including wine or juice during the interval. Booking is through Webtickets.
Juan Burgers, photo by Val Adamson
Multi-talented, multiple award winning Juan Burgers trained as a singer and concert pianist at the University of Pretoria with a Pretorium Trust Bursary, completing his studies at the University of Cape Town, having won the Unisa South African Scholarship. In the professional arts arena, both at home and abroad, he has proved equally proficient as a singer, pianist, choral director, conductor, vocal coach and teacher. His standing in South Africa’s arts community has long been accorded legendary status with generations of South African singers who have gone on to pursue successful careers abroad, professing their debt to his training. Juan made his debut as a composer with Ubuntu – The Opera, his full scale grand opera about South Africa’s struggle for democracy, focusing on the life of Nelson Mandela. The opera’s world premiere staging at The Playhouse in Durban in November 2015, garnered critical acclaim in both local and international media. Mr Burgers was subsequently invited to join the artistic staff of Cape Town Opera in early 2016, serving as the Company’s Vocal Coach, before venturing into opera development and training initiatives, which have led to the realisation of his dream - the creation of Ubuntu Opera Company.
Soprano Linda Nteleza hails from Cape Town, Khayelitsha. Coming from a musical background, she started engaging in local community choirs and high school competitions. She then furthered her music training at the University of Cape Town opera school under Patrick Tikolo and Kamal Khan. During her college years at music school, she sang roles like Barbarina from Le Nozze Di Figaro, Musetta from La Boheme, Antonia from The Tales of Hoffmann, Zerlina from Don Giovanni, Blanche from The Dialogue of Carmelites. In 2012 she made her first professional debut as Luigia in Viva La Mamma with the Wagner Society company. She obtained her postgraduate degree and joined the Cape Town opera studio in 2013 and sang the role of the Strawberry woman, Porgy and Bess, in Madrid opera house. In 2014/15 She was chosen as the only young African singer for newly composed opera, Nora, and she made her debut in China at the Tianjin opera house and also took part in a Norwegian tour. In 2015/16 she was amongst the Vocal Ensemble at the Cape Town opera company. The young soprano was also one of the few chosen South African singers to be part of the Glimmerglass festival in New York, Aix en Provence festival in France and Edinburgh festival in Scotland. In 2018 she performed with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra for the Starlight Classics and early this year she performed with Johannesburg Philharmonic in the Mozart Requiem. Linda is also the face of the I Live to sing documentary that followed three young African singers from New York to the township where they grew up. She is currently a freelancer.
In her studies and professional stage, soprano Charlotte was raised in Nelspruit Mpumalanga Province. While still at school, her talent for singing became apparent when she won second prize at the national level schools eisteddfod. A great future is predicted for this golden voice. In 2014 she started her opera studies training as a dramatic spinto under voice trainer Prof Patrick Tikolo at the University of Cape Town (SACM) where she completed her PDM in OPERA in 2018, Currently she is doing her PGdip in Performance that she will complete in 2020
Charlotte’s profession as an opera singer started in chorus parts in the opera Il Viaggio a Reins by Rossini, LA Traviata by Verdi at Artscape, Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart and many more… She has done solo roles Like First lady magic flute, Gaia Ubuntu, Governess Turn of a Screw, Meg, Falstaff….
South African tenor Thando Mjandana is a Link Artist (2018/19) on the Jette Parker young Artists Programme. Mjandana was born in Queenstown, Eastern Cape, and started singing as a member of his school choir and at church. He continued his studies at the University of Cape Town opera School (UCT) and went on to become a member of Cape Town Opera AD HOC. For UCT and Cape Town Opera he has sung roles in Il Viaggio a Reims, La Traviata, Sibusiso Njeza’s Blood of Mine and Angelique Mouysis’s The Blue-Eyed Xhosa. He has participated in Cape Town Opera’s outreach programme as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and in events in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Argentina, Ireland and the UK. In the 2018/19 Season he made his English national Opera debut as Nelson in Porgy & Bess. In concert, Mjandana’s appearances include Uriel in The Creation with KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra. His competition successes including First Prize for a South African song and Third Prize in the Amazwi Omzansi International Opera Singing Competition.
South African baritone Theo Magongoma is a graduate of the University of Cape Town's College of Music and a former member of the Cape Town Opera Studio for Emerging Young Artists. Theo has been the recipient of numerous prizes as well as winning two prestigious scholarships, one from Queensland Opera (Australia) and a Bruce Foote Scholarship from Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas (USA). In his first year of study in Dallas, he was invited to join Dallas Opera’s first Young Artists Studio and toured north Texas with the Wagner Society. Theo has sung the role of Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte with the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival. He also performed the role in the William Kentridge production of Magic Flute in South Africa and abroad, also singing with all leading South African orchestras. He collaborated Neo Muyanga on Tshohle for the Unyazi Festival at the University of Cape Town, performed in A Revolting Mass for Spielart Festival in Munich, Germany, and sang in Naham – Songs of Light and Weight for the Sharjah Arts Foundation in Dubai. In January 2019, Theo was invited to be a guest soloist with Pumeza Matshikiza at Artscape in Cape Town for the Tribute Birthday Concert of soprano Wendy Fine. In July 2019, Theo sang the role of Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Theater Im Delphi in Berlin where he worked with Staatsoper Berlin Director Marcin Łakomicki. Theo is completing his M. Mus in Music Performance at the University of Stellenbosch.
Tenor Arthur completed his undergraduate studies at TUT in 2004, under the vocal tuition of Lize Coetzer. He subsequently joined the Cape Town Opera Studio and completed his BMus (Hons) at the SACM in 2007, receiving vocal tuition from the late Nellie du Toit. Arthur was based in the United Kingdom from 2008 to 2017, where he performed extensively with regional and touring opera companies, while also receiving regular invitations to perform in South Africa. Arthur is currently enrolled for an MMus at the University of Cape Town’s South African College of Music, and is delighted to be a student again. His research topic touches on a fascinating aspect of vocal pedagogy.
South African Bass, Rueben is currently a 1st year student at the University of Cape Town. Reuben was born in the Northern part of KwaZulu Natal, and started singing as a member of his primary and high school, and also at church. He thereafter studied at Mangosuthu University of Technology where he graduated in Marketing Management (3-year course), where he eventually joined the university choir and also a s soloist. He has sung roles in Die Zauberflote ( Sarastro), Macbeth (Banco), in KZN, Lucia di Lammermoor (Raimondo) in Mamre. He has been a participant in Amazwi Omzansi Competition in 2018, Arts & Culture Competition 2013/14. Another privilege was an invitation to participate in the Royal Opera House masterclasses held at Diemersfontein in South Africa last August.