How Soweto song influenced Porgy and Bess star Tsakane Maswanganyi
Soprano Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi talks about her role in Cape Town Opera's Porgy and Bess, which moves the story from 1920s America to apartheid-era South Africa.
One of the clearest memories Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi has of her childhood in the South African township of Soweto is the sound of singing.
She has no doubt it helped shape her future career as an opera star.
"I grew up in a musical family. My grandparents liked singing, and my mum is a teacher and choir conductor.
End Quote Tsakane Maswanganyi recalls seeing opera for the first time
I was mesmerised by it. It made me want to study music.”
"One thing I remember about growing up in Soweto is people marching against the injustices of apartheid. They would sing these songs that were so deep and harmonised, and most of the time so full of sorrow."
Now Maswanganyi is in the UK performing at the London Coliseum in a production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess that has been touring the UK.
The opera, first performed in 1935, includes the songs Summertime and It Ain't Necessarily So.
It tells of the crippled beggar Porgy's attempts to rescue the beautiful Bess from the clutches of her violent lover Crown and dope-dealer Sportin' Life.
Originally set on Catfish Row, a run-down tenement in 1920s South Carolina, Cape Town Opera has relocated the action to the townships of 1970s Soweto.
Maswanganyi shares the role of Bess with Sibongile Mngoma and Nonhlanhla Yende.
"I don't consider Bess a bad girl," says Maswanganyi, "but someone who's looking for something."
The singer, 33, grew up with her grandparents in Soweto until the age of eight when she went to live with her parents in Giyani, in the north-east of South Africa.
Her first taste of opera came as a teenager when she caught a clip of La Boheme on TV.
"All the music I had been exposed to before had been African music. I remember sitting there thinking 'oh my God, what is that?' I was mesmerised by it. It made me want to study music.
"My dad had a big case of cassettes of classical music that I listened to every day."
Despite a lack of musical education at school, Maswanganyi took a "bridging course" that enabled her to study music at the University of Pretoria.
End Quote Tsakane Maswanganyi on being a member of Amici Forever
It got to a point where I started to be hungry for opera.”
She continued her operatic training after graduation, and sang leading roles in a number of operas and also in West Side Story in Cape Town.
In 2003, she moved to the UK to join pop classical group Amici Forever.
"I had five minutes to decide," Maswanganyi recalls. "I knew that it would mean a diversion from what I was doing. I thought: 'I'm 22 - now I can wear little mini dresses and sing arias - and in 10 years' time I won't be able to.' So I joined."
Amici Forever sang the theme for the BBC's coverage of the Athens Olympics in 2004 and toured internationally, releasing two albums.
Maswanganyi admits: "It got to a point where I started to be hungry for opera. It's so much closer to my heart. It started calling me."
In 2007 she played Carmen Jones, the Oscar Hammerstein musical based on Bizet's opera, at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
After seven years in London she moved to Italy to continue her operatic training.
But she returned to South Africa in 2011 to play the lead in Winnie the Opera.
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was in the audience on the opening night, and joined Maswanganyi at the curtain call.
"That was amazing. Whatever people think about her she's part of our history," says Maswanganyi.
"She said she felt honoured and she joked that even in her youth she wasn't as thin as me. I felt so super-skinny!"
Asked what kind of audience opera gets in South Africa, Maswanganyi doesn't hide her desire for more diversity.
"It's pretty similar around the world, and it's no different in South Africa. It's a more mature audience, but you do get people of my age.
"My wish would be for people from the townships to come to performances, but there are such problems with public transport."
Maswanganyi has sung twice for Nelson Mandela - "I was in awe of him" - but says meeting the Queen was a career highlight.
"After Carmen Jones, I got an invitation to attend a Commonwealth event at Buckingham Palace.
"It was a tea party for 300 people, on arrival they picked five people who would personally meet the Queen and I was chosen.
"And I didn't even have to sing!"
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess is at the London Coliseum until 21 July.