Oude Westhof’s Johannes Slabbert will be on stage at Artscape Theatre this week in Verdi’s popular La Traviata.
The popular Verdi opera tells the story of Violetta Valéry, the terminally ill prostitute who is coerced into sacrificing her one hope of personal happiness for the sake of nobleman Alfredo’s public reputation and his sister’s marriage prospects. The piece explores themes such as a human being’s right to love and live as they choose, regardless of who they are or where they come from.
Johannes plays the role of Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s manipulative father, who disapproves of Violetta.
“La Traviata is one of those operas that any opera student aspires to be a part of ‘one day when I’m older’,” he says, adding that the piece is written with “the utmost attention to detail”.
Although the opera, and his role specifically, has its own set of technical challenges Johannes says feels like “vocal body building”, he says he is left with a sense of accomplishment after each run of the production.
“I am so excited to be a part of such a great piece of music with such dedicated fellow cast members at such a young age,” he says.
Johannes’s own opera career began when he started studying towards his BMus degree at the UCT Opera School.
“The school itself creates many opportunities for opera performance throughout the course of one’s degree and to top it off, opportunities are created to work with Cape Town Opera on larger scale productions,” he explains.
He has performed many oratorio and operatic roles in many different styles through the UCT Opera School and Cape Town Opera and with the help of the Opera School’s professor Kamal Khan, Johannes has had the chance to perform on an international stage at the annual Johann Strauss New Year’s concert in Helsinki, Finland three years in a row.
Earlier this year he started his master’s degree in musicology through the University of Stellenbosch and has also become part of the Studio of Cape Town Opera.
While Johannes is looking forward to a “rather adventurous 2015” his focus now is on playing Giorgio Germont.
“Preparing Germont, or any other role for that matter, always follows a rather lengthy process,” he says, explaining that one needs to be able to understand the text, which in this case is Italian.
Then you need to learn the notes, their intention and the background of the pieces. For Johannes this meant reading the original novel and play and doing research on the true story around Violetta.
While he did understand his character, Johannes says it was a little more challenging to make him come to life on stage. As a 22-year-old, he struggled to portray and older man who is so concerned with the wellbeing of his family “that he is willing to break love and affection apart”.
Johannes believes that opera speaks to people on an emotional level and addresses social and political issues that are still relevant today.
He describes his character, Germont, for example, as “a metaphor for society and the judgment they pass without considering all the facts”.
He believes opera raises issues that would otherwise not always be discussed.
“We have so much that we can learn from opera. If the wider public knew this, I don’t see any reason why opera can’t be the most popular art form we have,” Johannes says.
La Traviata will be staged at Artscape Theatre at 19:30 on Thursday 30 April, Wednesday 6 and Friday 8 May and at 18:00 on Saturday 2 and 9 May. Tickets cost between R125 and R250 and are available at Computicket
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