The first, all-black South African opera was Die Zauberflöte , performed in 1995. Next Faust was transformed into a Zulu version, complete with local choir and orchestra. "After that, we wanted to develop an African genre," explains Sandra de Villiers of African Renaissance Opera Productions (AROP), the organization bringing Princess Magogo.
At the instigation of Professor Mazisi Kunene of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, De Villiers opted for the story of Princess Magogo, the famous independent mother of politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Mezzo-soprano Sibongile Khumalo had no difficulty adopting the role of Magogo. When she was young she sat at the feet of the legendary Zulu princess, listening to her stories.
Princess Magogo died in 1984. Any misunderstandings or uncertainties were immediately clarified by Buthelezi himself.
AROP is multicultural in the broadest meaning of the word. The shanty towns of Bloemfontein, neighbouring Botswana, the Eastern Cape, the intelligentsia of Durban and the countryside of KwaZulu-Natal are all represented. The orchestra is conducted by Jeremy Silver, an Englishman.
De Villiers denies suggestions that AROP is simply giving European opera an African icing. "Nonsense. You cannot escape the influence of your environment," says the Afrikaans native speaker. "Europe is searching for new voices. Perhaps they will come from this continent."