Sunday, November 8, 2009


I remember the anticipation and excitement: one of my favourite sacred scores by Mozart which I had an infatuation with since my early teens, was being staged by Cape Town Opera. To be precise, the company's website stated "... prize-winning director Fred Abrahamse is responsible for the dramatic staging of the Requiem".

It is rare (but not unusual) for sacred oratorios or cantatas to be imaginatively staged by directors. Francois Girard and the Canadian Opera Company creatively reworked the meaning of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms ( as a memorial to victims of the AIDS epidemic. So much could have been done with Mozart's Requiem but Cape Town Opera missed the boat on this one. The exercise was an unmitigated disaster and scaled new heights in the brazen art that is mediocrity.

The costumes were just awful -the soloists (bedecked in masquerade masks) seemed like stragglers from the Venice carnival, wondering aimlessly insearch of some allusive halfbaked metaphore the director never quite got round to formulating. The lighting best suited a high school ABBA revue (...hmm, the Day of Judgement at Studio 54. Classy.) . Most offensive of all was the score at the hands of conductor Chris Dowdeswell -his musically nebulous reading of such great music, trudging through some of the finest bars of music to flow from the genius that is Mozart was akin to being feted on cardboard. The chorus was amplified -very very badly, the staging left the poor trombones in the orchestra musically over-exposed.

I walked away sad and disappointed. This production could have said so much in the hands of a more imaginative and commited director. Given the recent history of South Africa, our young fragile democracy and the various challenges we face (Aids, crime, gross economic inequality, xenophobia, etc) there is ample in our day-to-day lives that this project could have used. It would have been a more meaningful and powerful exercise in the hands of a competent creative team.

RATING (1 to 5 stars): Zero

Cape Town Opera presents Mozart's Requiem
Filipa van Eck (Soprano), Janelle Visagie (Mezzo Soprano), Lionel Mkhwanazi (Tenor) and Rouel Beukes (Bass). Fred Abrahamse (Director). Chris Dowdeswell (Conductor). Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and Cape Town Opera Chorus.
October 28 & 31, 2009 Artscape Opera House, Cape Town.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

JANE IP: Pretty in Pink

Jane is one of the nicest designers I have met. She does not take herself too seriously, is easy going and very cheerful. Her favorite colour is pink, which in her native Hong Kong is associated with good luck.

She is the founder of Jeanne Lottie Fashion – a handbag and accessory line she started in the basement of her sister’s house with just $5,000. I asked her about the name, it's apparently a combination of her name and her sister’s (Charlotte). In Cantonese it means ‘true happiness’ - no need to focus-group that one!

Before the interview we chatted about Hong Kong, I told her about my recent trip there, my project there and how much I enjoyed the energy of the city and its historic role as bridge between the Orient and the West. Hong Kong gave Jane much of her vigour and creative spark, elements of her native culture creep into her designs. Jane comes from a family of established business folk, creativity and being a business woman are in her blood.

She spoke at length about her journey to Toronto via Oregon, where she went to university with her high school sweetheart. When that romance fizzled, her sister lured her to Toronto claiming the city had an endless supply of eligible bachelors. She hopped on the next plane.
In Toronto she studied for her MBA at the Schulich School of Business at York University, but her heart was not in it. The call to do something creative with her life was far too alluring and
Oregon’s loss is our gain.
Jane has not only livened up the lives of many women with her handbags and fashion accessories, but hosts an annual Pink Bedroom Party, an event that raises money for the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research at Princess Margaret Hospital. "Why Pink Bedroom?" you may well ask. That's the colour of Jane's boudoir where she initially dreamt of the party.

I was at this year’s party held at the Liberty Grand, it was a sold out, swanky grand affair. Wonderful people, fab grub and all for a good cause. Don't miss out on next year's event, the tickets at $250 were a steal.

Oh, I did ask Jane some dumb questions only a guy would ask about women and handbags (apparently you can never have enough handbags), I also probed a bit about shoes and you will be pleased to hear that the conversation on that topic did not flow to its logical (and well-worn) conclusion involing one Mrs Marcos.


Friday, December 7, 2007

FRANKY RICH: Boldly, visually...empowered!

“Letting go of the desire to control the end result unleashes an indefinable energy, food for the soul”
-Franky Rich, July 2002

Visual artist Franky Rich is turning 80 next year. She has enjoyed a career as a painter, fashion designer (ask her about Ertha Kitt), interior designer and performance artist. I have known Franky for a few months now and, based on several in-depth personal discussions with her, I can truthfully say that her art (especially her paintings) is what has kept her strong over the decades. She has weathered the ups and downs of life with a childlike grace. She is an inspiration to many.

I first met Franky Rich at a social gathering she hosted at her home a few months ago, and I was taken by her story. Here was this woman, approaching 80, going blind yet still painting and living life to the fullest. The walls of her apartment are full of her paintings going back decades. They weave a narrative of her origins, her encounters and her hopes for the future.

The single unifying belief that permeates all of her work is that this current life, our “reality” is transient and part of one’s larger cosmic journey through time and space. Instead of muddling through an explanation of this, I’ll let The Bard step in with a more elegant summary of Franky’s beliefs about the nature of our existence on this planet. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life, is rounded with a sleep”.

The interview with Franky Rich focused on her Artist Statement she penned in July 2002. The opening line reads: “Art can be understood, it cannot be explained” Although she studied art at colleges in her native South Africa and Quebec, she feels that her paintings have always been intuitive. When she found out a few years ago that she is gradually losing her vision, she initially felt a lot of anger and did not leave her apartment for a few months. The need to be creative eventually overcame any depression she felt and now she proudly proclaims to be “visually empowered.” She now no longer feels bound by the canvass and traditional forms of presenting art. Her blindness liberated her thinking about art and certainly her life. I could not help but think of Milton’s elegant sonnet which he penned “On his Blindness”.

Thirty minutes flew by mighty fast as we discussed a wide range of topics from her family, growing up in South Africa and the awful sights she witnessed there as a child, coming to Canada in the 1960s and her friendship with Toronto poet Bill Bissett. As for Franky’s future plans…you heard it here first… She is doing a multimedia show with the talented musician Marc Ellis in May 2008 titled Divine Monsters, Future Landscapes (based on a series of her paintings with that title). I will forward more information on that event in the New Year when details are available.