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Operatic monodrama to tour Wales

8 November 2022

Women-led, Cardiff-based opera company Opera’r Ddraig will be touring ‘Bhekizizwe’, the operatic monodrama by Dr Rob Fokkens, Senior Lecturer in Composition at the School of Music, and librettist Mkhululi Mabija, across Wales this autumn.

‘Bhekizizwe’ explores questions of identity, race, immigration, parenthood and culture through the eyes and experiences of a young South African Zulu man. The production traces the life of Bhekizizwe Shange, from his childhood during the last years of apartheid in South Africa to studies and unexpected fatherhood in the UK in the early 2000s.

‘Bhekizizwe’ draws on a range of musical and theatrical traditions - including traditional music and more recent styles from South Africa, British popular culture, and contemporary classical music - and features a bilingual libretto in English and Zulu.

Alongside the performances of Bhekizizwe, a programme of activities will be presented from October to December, funded by Cardiff University’s Innovation for All scheme. A series of 2-day creative workshops will be presented in collaboration with the four venues led by Cardiff-based multi-instrumentalist and music creator Imran Khan.

These events will explore the themes of the piece through music from around the world and electronic media, and will be open to young people interested in developing their skills in creative music-making of all types and genres.

Dr Rob Fokkens said: "Bhekizizwe grew out of my friendship with London-based South African opera singer Njabulo Madlala and our shared interest in creating a monodrama for him. We are both South African immigrants to the UK who grew up during the last years of apartheid and the decade that followed the first free elections, but our experiences of both that time in South Africa and our lives in the UK have been very different.

“The piece developed from that starting point, and consequently explores themes which continue to dominate many aspects of public discourse both in South Africa and the UK - especially race and immigration - despite it now being nearly thirty years since the end of apartheid.

“Although it was written between 2017-2020, we made the original film of Bhekizizwe in late 2020, between lockdowns and not many months after the death of George Floyd and the rise to prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement - a powerful reminder that engaging with these issues is as critical now as it ever was, if not more so."

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