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PRESS: Cape Town Opera’s Youth Development and Education FOUNDATION STUDIO celebrates first birthday

Allison Foat

 

Glamour is undeniably a salient feature of opera: soaring voices, gleaming costumes, arresting stage sets. This form of the performing arts is a handsome amalgam of theatre, song, and music.

That dazzling exterior, however, all too easily blinds one to the collective endeavour necessary for its genesis - the effort, patience, frustration, heartache and commitment that can bring raw, untutored talent from poverty to stardom. This is where Cape Town Opera's Department of Youth Development and Education (YDE) has a pivotal role to play in laying the foundation for a successful career in music and singing, ‘foundation’ being the operative word. Ably headed by Madré Loubser, the YDE's Foundation Studio is now celebrating its first birthday. In August 2021 this enterprising young head of the YDE Department initiated an expansion of YDE's portfolio in order to create further opportunities for the next generation of South African singers. With funding from the Western Cape Government Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, the YDE Foundation Studio was born starting with two learners. This year there are seven participants in the programme and by November 2022 auditioning for next year's intake will be well under way, if not completed. To expand the programme in 2022 and give more learners the opportunity Cape Town Opera was fortunate to secure funding from the City of Cape Town and Silversea Cruises. Loubser explains that the extra training afforded by this programme assists vocally gifted high-schoolers between the ages of 14 and 18 to achieve a healthy transition from childhood to adulthood. She further states that the Foundation Studio helps to teach and develop vocal technique for young voices in a healthy manner especially considering that some may be going through changes. “It's a difficult time for them, especially the boys, as their voices are breaking; we also help them sort out their technique, and increase their confidence.” A feature of this expanded version of the original YDE programme is the inclusion of music theory, keyboard studies, and aural training lessons, neither being currently available to learners attending inadequately funded schools in disadvantaged areas. As Lesley Liddle, who heads Business Development at Cape Town Opera, remarks, “Exceptionally gifted young people … do not have access to formal music tuition due to circumstances beyond their control. This immediately puts them at a disadvantage when they apply to a tertiary institution to study music. Cape Town Opera's Foundation Studio aims to give high school learners without a music literacy background the competency to enroll for a music course at university, thus bridging the gap between themselves and subject music learners, and enabling them to successfully secure a bursary.” If results are any measure of success, this nurturing initiative from Cape Town Opera is already bearing impressive fruit; for instance, 19-year-old tenor Iviwe Boms now studies at the University of Cape Town, where his natural talent – honed by just 5 months of training at the Foundation Studio- has enabled him to study towards an Opera Diploma at the University of Cape Town’s Opera School. He is now halfway through his first year. As for this year's intake, progress reports on two Grade 11 trainees Lilitha Nekhwevha and Siphosethu Makalima from their teachers confirm the ongoing success of the programme, both are thriving. The two Learners attend Fezeka Secondary School in Gugulethu. According to Adrie van der Dussen, who teaches music theory, keyboard studies and aural training “Lilitha and Siphosethu are by far the most conscientious students, and despite them being in Grade 11 their homework is always completed above and beyond expectations”. She describes both trainees as “bright minds who enjoy learning.” Voice teacher Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi finds Lilitha “a very musical and intelligent young musician. Very comfortable when singing and confident. Siphosethu has a very sweet upper register, very shy, but once she gets something and you make her aware of it, she gains confidence and sings very well”. Both students rely on tonic sol-fa (pedagogical technique for teaching sight-singing), for reading music at present, but are applying themselves for learning music quickly. Loubser stresses the need for mother tongue education when coming to grips with music literacy. “It's essential learners to be trained by a professional who can speak the same language “. So Sipho Qabitole assists in all classes and is there to translate (should it be necessary), also serving as childminder for the learners. Voice lessons are done at Fezeka Secondary School in Gugulethu and Harry Gwala Secondary School in Khayelitsha, while music theory, keyboard studies, and aural training lessons are conducted at the Artscape Theatre Centre. Thanks to the insightful, compassionate projects undertaken at Cape Town Opera one can be excited about the quality and future of vocal music in this country. Regarding the need for such continuity Cape Town Opera appeals to those enthused by the Foundation Studio aspirations and achievements to date to join existing sponsors in supporting this programme. Should they take up the invitation, they can contact Lesley Liddle, Head of Business Development at Cape Town Opera, at lesleyl@capetownopera.co.za.


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