From Cape Town to Aix-en-Provence

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      Festival Aix-en-Provence

      From Cape Town to Aix-en-Provence
      Friday, June 17

      From the townships of Johannesburg to the Berlin Philharmonic after Perth, Munich and Barcelona, the Cape Town Opera Chorus will make a stopover at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence this summer. A focus on this unique chorus.

      There are twelve of them. 6 women and 6 men. 3 sopranos, 3 mezzos, 3 tenors and 3 basses. All come from South Africa. Some studied opera at the University of Cape Town, others in Durban or Pretoria. They are between 24 and 40 years old and belong to the Cape Town Opera Chorus.

      Arline Jaftha, both soloist and assistant chorus master, talked to us just a few minutes before beginning rehearsals for Mozart’s Così fan tutte. “The full chorus is composed of more than 12 singers, but as the Festival of Aix is a big challenge, only the very best have been selected to participate in the project!” Doesn’t Aix present “a fine opportunity for exploration and discovery as a singer?” In 2012, she came to the attention of Sir Simon Rattle, who took her on board for a production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and in April 2013 the chorus won the Chorus of the Year award at the International Opera Awards. “We were thrilled when we learned that we were going to spend two months in Aix and meet fantastic artists!”

      What makes them so different? A “unique South African spirit that cannot be found elsewhere. “We are vibrant, passionate and we like to laugh, and you can feel it in our performances.” What’s more, they have a voice tone that is all their own. “Choral training is part of our culture, we sing from a very early age. It’s a sort of natural gift and our voice is strong and powerful.” The twelve singers arrived in Aix on 29 May. Since then, they have been rehearsing six hours a day. “A normal schedule, but the difficult thing about rehearsals at the Archevêché was the hours. We finished at half past midnight. We weren’t used to it.” Fortunately, there are days off during which they get together at the tenors’ house which has “the best view, the most beautiful terrace and, especially, they’ve got a barbecue!” Although the beginnings were a little timid, the language barrier did not last long. They quickly learned how to communicate with the others on the stage. “There’s an excellent relationship with the whole cast, and also with the technical teams.” Rubbing shoulders with the specialists of the Mozart repertoire has been an inspiring experience. “It’s really exciting to observe how these artists polish their art and how Louis Langrée focuses on the technique of Mozart’s music. It is a very delicate genre and we don’t have many musicians who embrace Mozart like that in South Africa!” This is only the third time that Christophe Honoré has staged an opera, “and that’s super cool because he has a very lively approach to Così. It’s more like being at the movies than at the opera!” This approach finds a particular echo with the chorus because, for some time now, they have been committed to working with stage directors who think differently (Alessandro Talevi, Matthew Wild or Brett Bailey). As for the atmosphere on the stage: “You should try it out for yourself. It’s completely crazy!” It is 6:30 p.m., it is still light outside and the curtain rises. The rehearsal begins. The women of the chorus capture the stage of the Archevêché with a great peal of laughter. Six men answer them from the tiers. These are their six colleagues who have come to provide support.

      You can discover the Cape Town Opera Chorus on Friday 17 June at l’Abbaye de Silvacane; during the Parade[s] evening organised in Cour Mirabeau on 26 June. They are also participating in the production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Théâtre de l’Archevêché from 30/06 to 19/07.

      Saskia De Ville

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