From Linksfield and back again – Opera’s Greatest Hits celebrated in Jozi
Johannesburg resonated to the sounds of classical music as some of the giants of the genre gathered at the Linder Auditorium to celebrate Opera’s Greatest Hits.
With a collapsing currency and a failing economy, access to international performing artists and world-class talent is becoming increasingly scarce for South Africans.
Driven by Colin Schachat, one of South Africa’s greatest classical exports, the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra performed before a packed audience, with some of the most talented names in the opera world. Under the baton of conductor David Sebba, the music director of the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio, the Festival Orchestra achieved its zenith.
Schachat began his musical career in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and played clarinet in the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Since moving to Israel in 1992, Schachat has become an internationally renowned opera baritone, performing with opera legends including José Carreras and Andrea Bocelli.
The Israeli contingent was rounded off by one of Israel’s leading sopranos, Yael Levita, who has performed as a soloist with the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion, the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.
Giving a platform to local talent was integral to Schachat’s vision, and South African Bongiwe Nakani gave a remarkable performance, as did world-class tenor Siyabonga Maqungo.
Nakani joined the Vienna State Opera in 2016, and Maqungo is a member of the ensemble of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin.
“I love performing in South Africa,” said Schachat, “There’s an energy and appreciation which is refreshing and inspiring. Performing in the country of birth is always nostalgic, moving, and special.”
Performing in South Africa is about more than just music, he says. “Where there’s cultural interaction, human barriers and preconceived dogma fade quickly. This is true in my field, and I’m sure equally applies to most other art forms”.
The repertoire for Opera Greatest Hits was determined by Maestro Richard Cock, who hosted the event. While the artists send their preferred repertoire to Cock, he cobbles together a programme balancing styles, arias, and ensembles with the musical taste of the local audience.
South Africa is fast gaining fame in the wider classical music world. Many local singers are doing remarkably well in Europe, and some have even made it to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The leading international vocal arts competition known as Operalia, hosted by Plácido Domingo, will take place later this year in Cape Town.
“One of my most memorable performances was at the opening of the President Peres Conference in Jerusalem,” says Schachat, “Amongst the 2 000 guests were legendary international personalities like Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, and Bill Clinton. After that performance, Peres invited me to have coffee and a chat. He was intrigued that a South African immigrant would be performing classic Israeli hits.”
But the highlight of Schachat’s career was when he entered the stage in front of 23 000 people with superstar Andrea Bocelli a few months ago in Tel Aviv. Says Schachat, “I did think of my late dad, who would have been proud of the career I’ve built. It’s a long way from being a choir boy at the Linksfield Shul.”
- Howard Sackstein is chairperson of the SA Jewish Report.