Afrikaans opera Die Vertrek is on the Opera in 1 Hour platform. Pictures: Nick Aldridge
Afrikaans opera Die Vertrek. Pictures: Nick Aldridge

Die Vertrek is a new Afrikaans opera featured on the Opera in 1 Hour platform writes THERESA SMITH:

Opera around the world faces the problem of an ever-widening gap between an evolving audience and a repertoire stuck in time.

One project in Cape Town is working on it though, with a new Afrikaans opera inspired by true events and Henry Scott Holland’s poem Death is Nothing at All.

Set in a white room, Die Vertrek is about a woman who dies and finds herself in a mystical room from which she tries to make contact with her grieving daughter. The story is told through song, dance, music and visual projection.

At its core Die Vertrek is based on director Mari Borstlap’s experience of grieving and new found “relationship” with her mother who passed away five years ago. “Although the narrative in the opera is not biographical, the story does explore the essence of what I’ve been through and how I’ve miraculously reconnected with my mother in new ways. I sincerely believe death is just a transition moment and our departed loved ones are still very much ‘alive’ and guiding and supporting us,” said Borstlap, who also wrote the libretto and served as production designer.

Die Vertrek Afrikaans opera is on the Opera in 1 Hour platform. Pictures: Nick Aldridge

Opera in 1 Hour series

She came up with the idea to tell the story through the heightened medium of opera because her mother loved music and wanted to work with composer Wilken Calitz, soprano Magdalene Minnaar and actress/dancer Jane de Wet from the beginning, but had to wait for the right funding and platform.

“It was producer Marie Vogts’ idea to develop the opera for the Opera in 1 Hour series, an opportunity for which I am eternally grateful,” says Borstlap.

Opera in 1 Hour is a platform created by Youngblood Arts and Culture Development in conjunction with Biblioteek Productions, funded by the National Arts Council, to create exposure for not only classical music in South Africa but also for those involved with the creative process and audience members.

Die Vertrek is composed for three instruments (guitar and violin played by Calitz and cello played by Corneil Muller), one voice and one actor and runs for an hour. While the score and libretto were composed using the traditional format they set out to create a modern opera, hence the one completely speaking role (with an underscore).

“The subject matter justifies this idea. We’re dealing with one character living in the world and the other as a departed spirit in the ethereal realm. I envisioned it this way since the beginning, the spirit will sing and the human will talk,” explained Borstlap.

The non-traditional venue of the Youngblood Gallery on Bree Street was part of the concept from the beginning.

Producer Marie Vogts points out that the space presents both challenges and opportunities: “Audience members will see an opera in a pure white space with a minimalist set that is enhanced with very specific lighting. We are excited about the modern look it is going to have.”

Die Vertrek has deliberately been created to attract and cultivate a new, younger audience while still appealing to the established opera loving crowd and Borstlap challenges anyone who thinks they don’t like opera to try it out: “It is modern, accessible and fresh while also being rich and sophisticated.”

More live performances in Cape Town.

What: Die Vertrek
Where: Youngblood, 70-74 Bree Street, Cape Town
When: 18 – 20 July, 8pm
Tickets: R150, R100 for pensioners and students
Book: Quicket