UCT Opera School shines at the Emmys

11 Apr 2014 - 09:30

Pictured L-R: Professor Kamal Khan, students Madukupanyane Senaoana and Thesele Kemane

An Opera documentary titled Ndiphilela Ukucula (‘I Live To Sing’) has been awarded an Emmy in the category Best Arts Program at the 2014 Emmy Awards ceremony. UCT Opera School students Linda Nteleza, Makudupanyane Senaoana and Thesele Kemane are featured in the 2013 movie, directed by Documentary Filmmaker Julie Cohen.

Ndiphilela Ukucula follows the three students who talk about their backgrounds, their experience of being UCT Opera School students as well as their musical aspirations. The film is a co-production of BetterThanFiction Productions and United Nations Television. Additional sponsors include the Mellon Foundation, American Channel 13 as well as John and Jody Arnhold. Set against the background of South Africa’s political past and future, the film is a story about hope and the mentorship of extraordinary talent despite adversity. Earlier this year, the same UCT trio dazzled American audiences when they performed at the opening night of the 2014 American Documentary Film Festival and Film Fund in Palm Springs. Although this was not related to the Emmy Awards, the performance served to promote South African Opera amongst a wider international audience. 

The students say that they greatly valued the opportunity of being part of a uniquely South African story. Soprano Linda Nteleza is currently a second year Postgraduate Diploma student, tenor Makudupanyane Senaoana is completing his first year in the same programme and bass baritone Thesele Kemane graduated from UCT with a Postgraduate Diploma in 2013. Both Senaoana and Kemane have recently been awarded the prestigious Olitalia Bursary for 2014. “Transformation stories all over the world have been told in various ways but I have never heard them told through Opera. Opera is essentially a European art form and has been described as elitist and ironically so. It is transforming many black South African lives, not by infringing on African cultures but by supplementing the already thriving choral culture with a marketable and profitable career choice” says Senaoana.

Asked why she had produced this particular film, Cohen said that she had been drawn to the ‘extraordinarily compelling story’ and to the incredible talent of young South African Opera students. According to the Director of the UCT Opera School, Professor Kamal Khan, South African Opera is starting to attract attention from around the world. "In this era where Opera is experiencing such severe financial contractions in the USA, it is extremely powerful for me, as an American transplanted to South Africa, to witness our UCT students creating such excitement around the art form itself. Surely all of us involved in operatic life share the desire to promote this art form amongst larger audiences, at the highest level possible. South Africa has a unique role to play in world Opera and the Emmy Award recognizes this", said Khan.

The coveted golden Emmy Award statue will soon be making its way from New York to the UCT Opera School where it will hopefully remain on permanent display alongside other accolades achieved by the school’s staff and students.