The 7th of July 1990, goes down in FIFA World Cup history as the day Italy were 2 ÔÇô 1 victors over England, in a third place match, played at a stadium specially built for the 1990 FIFA World Cup named Stadio San Nicola in Bari, Italy. It is also the date, when three operatic tenors, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, debuted at the same venue as The Three Tenors, performing the song Nessun Dorma from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot. Nessun Dorma has since been adopted as a FIFA World Cup trademark song, evidenced by Dstv’s SuperSport using it in a promotional trailer for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Sixteen years on, Setso Kgabung, Boyce Batlang and Tshepiso Gaborone are due to make their official debut as The Three Tswana Tenors, on Saturday September 23, at the Maitisong. Boyce and Tshepiso spoke to Sunday Standard on a Friday, a far cry from The Three ‘Big’ Tenors, as they habitually refer to Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti during their interview. Their respective ages are 23 and 24. Out of their smart performance outfits, they look like they have barely made it through adolescence.
The trio were members of Gaborone Youth Singers, when their conductor then, Reggie Kopi, who also hosts Melodi ya Dinnoto, a choral music programme on Radio Botswana, selected Boyce, Setso and another fellow, who, according to the young tenors, did not make it because “his voice did not match ours,” which is were Tshepiso came in, and the three part tenor harmony was complete, with Boyce singing Pavarotti’s high register tenor, Tshepiso, like Carreras, vocalising in middle tenor and Setso, the tenor, absent during the interview, bringing in darker timbres of the baritenor of Domingo in The Three ‘Big’ Tenors’ vocal arrangements.
“In 2003 Reggie Kopi taught us an Italian ballad, O Sole Mio, to perform at President Festus Mogae’s birthday,” Tshepiso told me. O Sole Mio, another of the Three Tenors signature tunes, was the song with which they successfully auditioned for The Opera Bravo Show at the Maitisong.
It is during this period that Reggie Kopi, according to the two tenors, was engaged as a music teacher at Moeding College, later founding the Gaborone Chorus and consequently parting with the young tenors.
David Slater then joined them as their manager and coach. The young men continued to enjoy success and followed up with performances at Alexander McCall Smith’s classical music benefit show, and the Maitisong Festival, singing alongside acclaimed soprano and mezzo-soprano, Angela Kerrison and Sibongile Khumalo respectively. They also performed at corporate functions.
There is not a single amplified pre football game performance made popular by the ‘Big’ Tenors, who, curiously, where regarded scornfully by opera purists, branding them as ‘sell-outs’ because of their large payments of US$ 10 million each, and amplified stadium performances, which were not ‘orchestra friendly.’
Enquiries about whether we will see them performing in the outdoors are not met with evident enthusiasm but murmured, ‘if the chance presents itself.”
Accompanied by pianist Olga Merker, the Three Tswana Tenors have set a primarily classical repertoire for their debut. Their programme includes Giuseppe Verdi’s La donna e mobile and Salvatore Cardillo’s Core ‘ngrato. Dinokeng tsa Babilona is the only marabi tune scheduled, which they will perform with Sedibeng Choral Society.
“Funiculi Funicula, O Sole Mio and Nessun Dorma end on a high, and those type of songs are appealing to audiences,” Tshepiso said of their draw card performances.
Boyce will be the only one of the three performing solo, which will be Amor ti vieta, Umberto Giordani’s Fedora. Tshenolo Segokgo, Oteng Zachariah Boitumelo Pilane and Daniel Motswiri are also billed to perform.
Towards the end of the interview, a cat is let out of the bag: there is a possibility of a Three Tswana Tenors CD hitting stores in the next year. “We have been offered a recording contract but we are still looking into it,” Tshebiso and Boyce confided. This would be a first in Botswana’s classical music scene. Mario Dradi must have been on to something when he conceived the idea of three tenors.