Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live



S. Africa: Cape Town school draws future opera stars

Singers rehearsing at UCT's opera school, Cape Town.   -  
Copyright © africanews

South Africa

In Cape Town, musical talents are being attracted to South Africa's only opera school.

Coming from far and wide, students who have very little to no knowledge of music are drawn to the Opera School at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The academy is arguably Africa's most prestigious opera school and is the only opera school in the country with a comprehensive curriculum, including music, singing, acting and opera languages including Italian, French and German.

Appreciating the art

Yonwaba Mbo, 31, switched from agricultural studies to music when the opera "bug" hit.

Unable to read a musical score, he started from scratch.

For six years now he has studied all things opera, motivated by the idea that someone like him can tell a story in music, singing in a foreign language.

"Before I studied opera... when I heard it, I would always ask myself: why are these people always screaming?" Mbo, a powerful baritone, says with a laugh.

"Then when the bug bit me, I got to hear the technical side of it and to understand how much work you need to put in, in order to sound like that. I started appreciating the art."

Future stars

Siphosihle Letsoso, who comes from the former mining town of Kimberley in the Karoo desert, dreams of one day having a career as a soloist.

"There is no opera scene in Kimberley!" she laughs. "That's what is really encouraging me to just do well. So that I could go back one day and develop the theatre, liven it up."

Mbo and Letsoso are currently rehearsing Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro", with Mbo taking the lead as as Figaro.

Diverse backgrounds

The school's director is British conductor Jeremy Silver. He says that South Africa has a "huge amount of talent" and that the school can help those with potential to "focus that interest, focus their instincts, and to teach them all the other skills."

This year, the opera school held auditions in six cities across South Africa.

It offers music lessons in disadvantaged areas of Cape Town, organised by singing teacher Paulina Malefane, who keeps an eye out for promising voices.

In Khayelitsha, a township east of Cape Town, around thirty schoolchildren are learning to sing the C scale.

"One day when you are grown up, you will come and take my job!" Malefane says, encouraging a girl who is drawing a treble clef on a white board.

Malefane also overcame a lack of theoretical knowledge she started off, initially struggling with reading and writing music.

She hopes that her pupils will not have the same challenges. 

"If and when they decide to take music or opera... at least they have something they can start with. They have some background of music," she says, as a student points with a hesitant finger to the C note keys on a piano, drawing thunderous applause from her classmates.

View more