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Isango Transports Magic Flute to South Africa


Pauline Malefane as Queen of the Night
Pauline Malefane as Queen of the Night

Coming upon South Africa’s award-winning Isango Company’s movie U-Carmen [trailer here] on Netflix only a few weeks ago, I was mightily impressed. It’s right up there with the great film versions of the opera such as the Geraldine Farrar/Cecil B. DeMille silent and Chaplin’s burlesque thereof, not to neglect Carmen Jones and the straighter 1984 version with Migenes and Domingo.

Therefore it was exciting to learn that the Isango Company would be bringing its re-imagined, transformed and transported version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute to an opera house we could easily visit. Sung in English and the Xhosa language, and employing a score transcribed for folk instruments including oil drums and marimbas by an ensemble gathered from the townships around Cape Town, the production runs October 21st through October 26th at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theater.

This article continues with unanswered questions inasmuch as no response has been forthcoming from the intended interview subjects. We hope to append the answers to a completed conversation before the run ends. In the meantime, have a look at the YouTube promos here and here.

How did the English director Mark Dornford-May come to South Africa with these ideas?

Andiswa Kedama and Pauline Malefane, who also play Amanda and Carmen in the U-Carmen, did the translation into Xhosa from the Halevy libretto. Tell us about that language and whether all of Isango productions are in it.

The Magic Flute is another indestructible opera that is no stranger to unusual interpretations. It seems timeless and placeless. It’s not quite German, it’s not quite mythological, it’s not quite Masonic; it’s a comedy, but it has some of Mozart’s most poignant music. Does the drama translate as well as the comedy when the orchestration is mostly marimbas and drums?

I gather the musicians appear onstage with the singers and the dancers and the conductor’s gestures are projected. Will there also be projected titles? And how much of the production will be in English?

Tamino, Mhlekazi Andy Mosiea (Keith Pattison photo)
Tamino, Mhlekazi Andy Mosiea (Keith Pattison photo)

In U-Carmen bones substituted for dice in the gypsy scene. What similar transformations occur in the Magic Flute?

Tell us something about the members of your company. How many of you also sing in conventional performances of European operas?

Have your productions succeeded in bringing opera to audiences that have never seen it before in Africa and on tour?

Adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May
Music arranged by Pauline Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis
Presented by Eric Abraham & ArtsEmerson
Runs October 21 through 26 at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theater
Tickets $110 to $25

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