Imagine listening to ‘Le Nozze di Figaro‘ (Mozart) or ‘La Traviata‘ (of Verdi) or ‘Madama Butterfly‘ (Puccini) in Lingala, or Douala, or Yoruba? Imagine for one second, listening to these great operas in Wolof or Shona… Isn’t the feeling precious?
All praise to the 2005 South African version of Carmen of Bizet: U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha. This operatic is set entirely in a South African township, in Cape town, Khayelitsha, and it is entirely in Xhosa, one of South Africa’s main languages! Thrilled is a word that cannot explain my joy… In all honesty, I was amazed to see an entire opera entirely set in Africa, with African actors. A modern-day Carmen, the film carries the energy known to belong to South African singers. These authentic voices shed a new light on opera, and bring in a full South African touch. It brings out the dynamic heat of township life through the exciting combination of a violent gangster tale intertwined with an almost supernatural love story. As it unfolds, it explores the issue of the position of a strong woman in a male-dominated society, the issue of wealth and fame, and abuser and victim. I am sure Georges Bizet himself would have been stunned by director Mark Dornford-May’s rendition of his work. It definitely deserved all the awards it got, among which the 2005 Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival.