Review: Extraordinary production of Alcina, by Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School- November 12-16, 2022
|Alcina – Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School |
Where: Artscape Theatre
When: November 12-16, 2022
Tickets: R100 to R340 through Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 0214217695
Director: Matthew Wild
Last night – November 15, 2022- I saw the extraordinary Alcina at Artscape. The production is a collaboration between Cape Town Opera and the UCT Opera School and is guest directed by Matthew Wild, with set design by Wilhelm Disbergen and lighting design by Faheem Bardien. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Jeremy Silver. There is one more performance- tonight- November 16 – so here is a quickie review
It is long – one and a half hour first half (it has been cut for this production- I would have liked it to be trimmed further) and a 50 minutes in the 2nd half but it is an extraordinary piece of theatre: Opulent, lavish, excess, magical, enchanting. There are guns and fire; disembodied mannequins, strobe lighting, candles.
Director Mathew Wild has conjured up an epic theatrical opera, with sensational set by Wilhelm Disbergen – pivots on a drum revolve and is lit by Faheem Bardien – a sphere of another world. It is a lair, fantastical island (nightmare and ecstasy), which is part artist studio with canvas stretchers.
Costumes are a wow – battle fatigues and ball gowns – by Maritha Visagie and Rabia Davids. And then the wondrous score by Handel, with Jeremy Silver conducting The Cape Town Philharmonic. I haven’t even got to the company -Ané Pretorius (Alcina), Christine Bam (Bradmante). Those were the principal artists that we saw last night. Entire company – a knockout- and chorus at the end – when all ends well – wow.
A revelation tonight was the presence of Marsanne Neethling and Ayesha Ramjugernath from Jazz Hands – Signs of a Language. They signed the opera in South African Sign Language.
They did not only sign the translations of the libretto (English and isiXhosa surtitles, beamed on a screen) but also signed the music- indicating with gesture and body and tempo, the pace and pitch of the music. I have seen sign interpreters in action at theatre but I have never witnessed this – where the translation from other languages (sung in Italian, with English, isiXhosa surtitles) is performed, physically, through sign and the music is also conveyed through gesture and body.
I chatted briefly to Marsanne at interval and she told me that her parents are Deaf and sign was her first language. Her company, Jazz Hands specializes in theatre and events. I think that this is a powerful medium in a country where we have so many official languages and the politics of translation is not easy territory. Let’s bring in sign interpretation to transcend verbal language. Sign is a language in itself – so I use my words very carefully here. It was absolutely transfixing to be immersed in Alcina – the staging, design, music, sensational voices and layered with that; the sign language interpretation – another layer of a theatre in an epic production.
Members of the Deaf community were in the audience, last night, November 15, 2022, facilitated by Jazz Hands. There are over 4 million people in South Africa who are Deaf and/or hearing impaired. [https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/national-month-deaf-people]. The Deaf community is sizable and what I loved about Jazz Hands’ signing at Alcina, was that it was not merely a ‘translation’, but was very much a visceral evocation of Alcina, through the powerful vocabulary of South African sign language.
✳ Featured image: L-R Megan Kahts (Ruggiero) and Ané Pretorius (Alcina) in a scene from Alcina at Artscape, a collaborative production by Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School, guest directed by Matthew Wild with set design by Wilhelm Disbergen and lighting design by Faheem Bardien