By Nyakallo Motloung
Although I am a big theatre goer, I am a novice with regards to opera and that is why I was excited when I was invited to the opening night of La Boheme at the Joburg Theatre. La Boheme is an age-old but timeless love and loss story between a young couple, Rodolfo and Mimi. The opera is a Gauteng Opera production directed by Marcus Desando, music by the Gauteng Opera Orchestra and conducted by Eddie Clayton. The cast consists of local performers and they really sold me there. I had never seen an opera live and to see the mainly black cast list got me even more excited and internally, I was singing Solange Knowles’ F.U.B.U. But, I digress. Additionally, being a lover of poor theatre, it is always a great experience for me to see the other side of the game, consisting of grand sets and costumes.
So I sat in my seat with great expectations, awaiting the show to start. The curtain opened and I saw a simple but lovely set. I could tell instantly that the opera had been modernised as I saw the chic apartment of Rodolfo and Macello and their modern costume. Unfortunately my heart sank a bit as I struggled to hear the male performers in the beginning and was not helped much by the confusing subtitles. Performers’ lack of projection on stage always makes me feel as though I am looking from the outside on an inside joke, which is very isolating. But I was not deterred, I sat on the edge of my seat and adjusted my concentration from 100 to 110. However, I was instantly taken by Marcello (Solly Motaung) whose voice and physicality was a pleasure to watch throughout the show. His charm went beyond his character. Motaung’s presence on stage and ability to engage the audience was really satisfying to watch. A trait which I was expecting more from Rodolfo (Phenye Modiane) who was the leading man and protagonist of the show. He truly has a beautiful voice and his interactions with Mimi really warmed my heart. However, there is a gentleness in Rodolfo that I feel Modiane played too far and as a result, made him shrink on stage. His actions were too small and there was a lack of commitment in them that made me want to listen to rather than watch him.
However, I was really blown away by Mimi (Khayakazi Madlala). What a star. Her voice really gave me a visceral reaction. I could not hold back from shouting “YAAS GIRL” when she hit those high notes and I would like to apologise to the two ladies who sat beside me. But also, #SorryNotSorry. We had been told that Madlala is a second year student at Gauteng Opera it is such a pleasure to see a new talent who I hope will go very far. Not only was I taken by her voice but also by how well her physicality connected to her voice. The same can be said for the gorgeous Musetta (Litho Nqai). My goodness! I just loved her vocal range and the way she took control of the stage. It was not only in the writing but also in the body of Nqai. As I stated, I am but an eager novice in the world of opera but I am a self-proclaimed expert in spotting performers enjoying themselves on stage; which was what drew me to Motaung, Madlala and Nqai.
My (very high) expectations were not met fully but overall, I enjoyed the show and I have learnt that I really need to watch more opera. Really! I would definitely recommend the show, especially to opera lovers. You have a chance to do so at the beautiful Mandela Theatre at the Joburg Theatre from the 20 – 23rd of July.
Get your tickets at https://www.joburgtheatre.com/la-boheme