He who laughs last is not always the court jester

Lukhanyo Moyake

My night at the opera on February 14 was not a happy Valentine’s Day story. Gilda’s true love wasn’t true and after her night in the sack with her Duke, she, not he, died at the hand of an assassin paid for by her beloved father. Crushed with sorrow and anger, he realises that who laughs last is not always the court jester.

That, basically is the plot of Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. And what made Cape Town Opera’s production extra special is that conductor Kamal Khan believes it to be “the first standard Italian opera staged locally with an all-South African cast, not studying at a university”. This goal he and stage director Marthinus Basson achieved “without sacrificing artistic excellence”.

Chatting to them recently at Artscape, they told me they did not want the opera to become a black/white story which would have been inevitable had Gilda and Rigoletto been black and the lecherous Duke of Mantua white. They wanted it to be a battle “between the same kinds of people”.

That they achieved it with an outstanding cast, headed by baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa in the title role which he has also sung at the Met under Ricardo Muti, makes you realise the depth of talent we have in South Africa. We have made enormous strides since the 1980s.

I’ve never heard tenor Lukhanyo Moyake produce such vocal confidence and spirit as he did in the Duke’s swaggering aria La donna é mobile (Women are fickle) with its unending high C. Soprano Noluvuyiso Mpofu was just magnificent in Gilda’s reflective aria Caro Nome. In the supporting roles of the sinister assassin Sparafucile and his lusty sister Maddalena, Thomas Mohlamme and Nonhlanhla Yende more than held their own with the three leads.

I wonder what Verdi would have thought of the huge screen providing the modern background to the bare stage. He wouldn’t have recognised an oil refinery or a container terminal but he would have had an opinion about the scenes of debauchery shown on that screen and overwhelming the sexual antics and voices of the chorus of 24 real men and the Duke in his palace.

Verdi had a sense of humour. He was once cornered by the husband of the second soprano in Rigoletto who wanted him to compose more showy vocal material for Gilda. Verdi replied “My dear fellow, there is place for another duet in this opera … Gilda and the Duke in bed”!

Love business

When I was teenager Valentine’s Day hardly counted. Of course it was very good for the ego if you did receive a valentine that was written by a genuine admirer and not just your father or brother either to tease you or to boost your self confidence when you were going through that awkward pimply stage. However, today it is really huge business, coming second after Christmas as a boost to the economy.

I heard this in a discussion on FMR when a big wig in the floral business was being interviewed. He was explaining how he kept the supply of fresh flowers rolling to meet the almost insatiable demand for that one day. Because if men didn’t rise to the occasion there was big trouble …

I saw what he meant when I bought a bunch of red and white roses on February 13 for a friend’s birthday. Clearly in readiness for Valentine’s Day were the buckets of single red roses and bunches of flowers, adorned with a plastic red heart on a stick.

The evening of February 14, I popped into the same store for bread and was amazed that only two bunches of flowers remained. And one of those was gratefully grabbed by a weary blue collar worker, who either did not want to, or dare not go home, empty-handed.

Service delivered

On January 31 I sent from the Tokai post office by registered mail at a cost of R70.40c, all the required documents to renew my EU passport through Her Majesty’s Passport Office in Durham, UK.

I had some misgivings about posting it locally – particularly as it included my current passport – but I was assured by my best friend that it would get there.

And it did too. Moreover the passport and documents arrived by courier in Tokai on February 13. Just two weeks to get to the UK and back. I was gobsmacked.

I am so impressed not only with our maligned post office living up to its motto “We deliver, whatever it takes” but also the efficiency of the Durham office. It gives me courage, hopefully not false, now to undertake acquiring my next important document – my new ID card from the Department of Home Affairs.

Good ‘net’ coming

In spite of tunnelling delays caused by the widening of Tokai Road, the good news is that the Tokai Fibre initiative is getting closer. I can’t wait. For months I’ve had infuriating internet problems trying to send off emails in the afternoon which in the morning were placed in the outbox.
I have to switch off the computer and reboot. Usually they go off but sometimes I receive a heart-stopping message that “this item cannot be opened”. If it’s my column, I have to make another copy from Word but if it’s an email letter, it has gone for good.

Oh yes…

A reader wrote telling me he planned to comment on a recent final paragraph in this column about “Short Memory Loss”. Alas, he can’t remember what he was going to say.