‘It will be an enjoyable evening of clean family entertainment, with no booty shaking or dirty songs,” Angela Marang Kerrison had assured me facetiously, through gales of laughter about her G-rated date with Gaborone’s opera lovers, that was set for 19th August 2006. The BIFM – sponsored concert titled ‘An Evening of Opera & Song,” performed at Maitisong, was to be the 27-years-old, operatic soprano farewell bid to Botswana’s opera enthusiasts, as she is leaving for Europe, where she has been accepted for an internship at the esteemed Zurich International Opera Studio.
Angela had arrived at Sunday Standard’s premises, garbed youthfully, in a mid-length denim skirt, a girly t-shirt and high heeled shoes. Affable with a ready smile, she had sat opposite me, through an amiable interrogation about her musical career; she started singing in amateur competitions in her teens at Mafikeng International, she would later graduate from the University of Cape Town with a Performer’s Diploma in Opera.
In Cape Town, with the Philharmonic Orchestra, she would debut professionally in 2004 as Violetta, a leading role in La Traviata, one of the most performed operas in the world, in which her performance as the tragic courtesan was acclaimed. Her repertoire would grow to include leading roles as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Micaela in Carmen, creating the role of Veronica Jonkers in Thomas Rajna’s Valley Song. As a member of Cape Town Opera Studios, she performed as Gretel, Belinda, Papagena, Leila and Despina.
She was a soloist in David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, Handel’s Messiah, Medelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Requim Mass and Coronation Mass. “I have been based in South Africa because, that’s where opera work is,” said Angela with a shrug. This year, her works with composer/director Mzilikazi Khumalo, namely Princess Magogo and Ushaka, toured Amsterdam Hek Musiektheatre and Chicago’s Ravinia Festival respectively.
A blaze of critical acclaim has trailed her performances, Michael Tuffin, of Cape Times, said of her debut performance in La Traviata: “Her youthful appearance and great histrionic talent imbued the character with many nuances, which brought this critic to tears in the last scene.”
“Her singing was crisp,” Wynne Delacoma of the Chicago Sun Times has said, “In the solo for ‘Nandi’s Love Song’ she brought voluptuous warmth to the high sustained melodic line.” Fortunately, Angela’s acclaim is translated monetarily, she said, “The pay is quite good once you are established, it ranges from R5 000 to R10 000 per show, depending of course, on the client. Its always good when you are part of a full opera, which runs between 2 weeks and 6 months.”
Her Bifm aided concert is her fundraiser for her trip to Europe, where, added to her sustenance, would be the costs of German and singing lessons. Singing lessons, for a highly acclaimed soprano? “A singing coach listens out for any bad habits you might be forming,” Angela told me on a telephonic conversation, shattering my dreams of singing guruship. “They guide you on the techniques of using your voice in an operatic way, a singer always learns you know.” Her words from our earlier conversation, “An opera singer spends as much time as a doctor practicing their trade,” are recalled, albeit unpleasantly. “I am still learning, I have enough time because I am young,” she had added, with a cheeky chuckle. “The key is to enjoy singing, regardless of the technicalities,” Angela concluded.
“Tertiary education, preferably in music, is a requisite with The Zurich International Opera Studio, one should have had formal training in opera and performing,” the University of Cape Town alumna stated. The Zurich International Opera Studio, is a classical music hub in Switzerland, that has an assemblage of professional singers, directors, conductors and vocal coaches, and stages a number productions per week. The Opera House holds worldwide auditions for young singers yearly, from which only twelve are selected. The twelve singers are then given a chance to be cast in the productions staged by the Opera House.
Angela, who had flown to Europe for her triumphant audition before a panel of judges, told me; “I have been learning German by myself and will be taking classes on my arrival in Switzerland,” At the end of the season, the interns should be proficient in more than German greetings and useful shopping phrases. The Opera House might renew contracts of singers whom they believe have proved their artistic dexterity.
Kerrison admits to not having done enough to sell herself to Batswana, because; “getting on radio and television is costly.” The turnout for her performance is, however, satisfactory. Angela is a sight in a floor length-blue evening gown, accompanying her on piano, South African Albert Horne, dapperly suited in black.
Together they set of in song. The first segment is of classical persuasion, punctuated by anecdotes from Angela. She thanked her accompanist, Albert Horne, who had crossed the border to accompany her, for being ever reliable and never disappointing her. The foreign lyrics are lost on this writer, Angela’s deliverance of the songs however, is not.
Comic relief was served, by a reveller, who commended Angela’s mother, on having a talented daughter, going on to imitating Angela’s operatic singing, employing an excessive vibrato that tickled bystanders.
Angela opened the second set singing Nandi’s Aria from the Zulu oratorio, Ushaka, in a shimmery black afro-centric gown. After which Angela related a tale of how Mzilikazi Khumalo had pulled her aside for a word on Zulu phonetics, his advice; “get one of those boys in the chorus, make him your boyfriend and your Zulu will improve immensely.”
The tone was set for a contemporary set, with Angela proceeding to give popular Gershwin jazz standards, It ain’t necessarily so and Summertime the treatment. She ended the night with a song from the 1950’s musical, My Fair Lady, titled ‘I could have danced all night.” Indeed her singing is effortless and expressive, she drew the audience in with her dramatic performance.
Does she perhaps harbour desires of another vocation; “No way! Never!” Angela answers loudly “I wouldn’t want to do anything else, I love what I do!”