Mandela Trilogy

Cape Town Opera

As Africa’s premier opera company and South Africa’s largest non-profit performing arts organization, Cape Town Opera (CTO) fosters the expression of a national identity through the creation and performance of new South African works, alongside classics of the genre. 

CTO produced Mandela Trilogy (originally titled African Songbook: A Tribute to the Life of Nelson Mandela) in celebration of Nelson Mandela for his 92nd birthday. Mandela Trilogy employs a unique fusion of traditional Xhosa songs, jazz tunes, and modern music in honor of one of the world’s most inspiring statesmen. The work consists of three acts — an encounter with traditional rural music, a jazz musical, and an opera — representing the diversity of expression in contemporary South Africa.  Composers Peter Louis van Dijk and Mike Campbell and librettist Michael Williams collaborated to musically identify and complement different phases of Mandela’s life, providing three singers with an opportunity to portray the complex aspects of his personality.

The story begins in Mandela’s birthplace, in the town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. After his initiation into manhood and rejection of a traditional arranged marriage, Mandela decides his future lies beyond the Qunu hills and he flees to Johannesburg.

The narrative continues to act two with Mandela working as a lawyer in the township of Sophiatown, shortly before the Nationalist Party’s forced eviction of the township residents. Mandela’s political education and community leadership role becomes more pronounced during this time, as he rallies black South Africans toward the African National Congress cause.

The story concludes in act three, with the repercussions of the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela’s trial and incarceration, and his eventual release from the infamous Robben Island prison.

From traditional Xhosa choral music to jazz and jive dancing of the 1950s township dance halls; from struggle songs of the 1980s to the liberation music of the 1990s, Mandela Trilogy celebrates the vibrant variety of South African music while dramatizing the defining moments that shaped Mandela’s life.

This engagement will include live music performed by Harris Theater Resident Company Chicago Philharmonic Society.

Audio Description

The Saturday, February 27th performance of Mandela Trilogy will be audio-described. For more information about accessible services at the Harris, please visit our Accessibility page.

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