Porgy and Bess 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the 1960s, international artists and academics, at the request of the African
National Congress, began to boycott apartheid South Africa.
became part of a larger series of boycotts, which extended as far as the
exclusion of South Africa from the 1964 Olympic Games. One of the main
supporters of this initiative was Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Tutu called upon the Cape Town Opera to take part in a similar boycott, this
time against Israel. In a letter written to Michael Williams, managing director
of the 10-year-old opera house, Tutu compared Israel’s current political
situation with the discriminatory apartheid government.
He urged Williams
to forego his commitment to Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and join a group of
international artists who have pulled out of engagements in Israel in the past
Williams arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, two days after
the 70 members of the Cape Town Opera Company. The troupe opened their
production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
the following day.
Williams is a
man of firm beliefs. Sitting at the Aroma caddy-corner to TAPAC, Williams
explained his reasons for going against Tutu’s wishes.
“I’m against arts
and academic boycotts,” he said.
“It did not help the artists fraternity
in South Africa when the boycott took place. We became voiceless.
us back 10 years. [The arts] is not the place to be boycotting. That is the
place to be supporting, to be interacting, strongly. The place to express
I believe in doing something positive, in positive actions. Not
coming is negative. Nothing would have come of not coming. Our being here will
create all kinds of other reactions.”
The Cape Town Opera has a history
of making headlines. In fact, Porgy and Bess was a major part of its rise to
fame in South Africa. Staged for the first time in 1995, one year after the
official end of apartheid, Porgy and Bess
presented an almost exclusively black
cast for the first time. The opera, which premiered in New York 1935, deals with
issues of drug abuse, domestic violence, hope and the strength of a community.
Although the story is set in 1920s America, the themes touched upon in
Gershwin’s work resonate with modern day South Africa.
“The story has a
lot of relevance for us,” said Williams.
In a statement to the press,
Hana Munitz, director of the Israeli Opera, said that both the Israeli Opera and
the Cape Town Opera are apolitical organizations.
“The agenda is culture
and art,” she said. “Both houses relate to culture as a bridge.”
his time in Israel, Williams plans to make use of this “bridge” to reach out to
opera lovers and musicians throughout the region.
“I made commitments to
pro Palestinian organizations in my country that we would be entering into
dialogue. I have made contact with the Barenboim- Said Foundation (the
organization responsible for the Musical Education in Palestine
I have written letters to the Palestinian Circle School. We are
bringing them in to see performances.
We are trying to get people from
Nazareth and Ramallah to come see the show. Hana Munitz has said that we would
encourage dialogue and she is putting her money where her mouth is,” he
The range of responses to this tour took Williams by
“I never thought that the archbishop of Cape Town would write
us a [critical] letter,” he said. “We have received a lot of hate mail, a lot of
threats of protests outside our theater. At the same time we received a lot of
support. A lot of people thanked us for taking a principled stand on this issue.
We are here to produce a work of art, something that will be meaningful to us
and to our audience. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.Cape Town
Opera will perform at TAPAC until November 27. For information and tickets,