|Mandla Mndebele sings the Prologue from Pagliacci|
Last week, a very special event at Bonham's Auction House in New Bond Street brought a spring to the step and a tear to the eye.
My parents left South Africa in the early 1950s, soon after their marriage, and rarely returned. My father refused to go back until after apartheid had been thrown out. They were both great music-lovers, but both died more than 20 years ago, so they did not live long enough to see the marvellous growth of talent now emerging from their old country, black and white together. Today's star South African singers include, just for starters, Pumeza Matshikiza, Golda Schultz, Pretty Yende and Jacques Imbrailo - and as Bonham's geared up for its sale of South African art, it joined forces with Cape Town Opera to bring us some more.
The sheer raw talent and dynamism that came bounding off the platform amid the paintings was little short of extraordinary. Among them were Lukhanyo Moyake, the tenor whom you may have spotted on the Cardiff Singer of the World; Frances du Plessis, a splendid young soprano with a bent for bel canto; Johannes Slabbert, who's changing fach from baritone to tenor - not quite there yet, perhaps, but well on the way and with a personality with "tenor" written all over it; Mandla Mndebele, a magnificently charismatic and full-voiced baritone; and, perhaps most wonderful of them all, the rich-toned soprano Siphamandla Yakupa, whose searing intensity in Gershwin's 'My Man's Gone Now' was absolutely shattering. Samantha Riedel was their excellent accompanist. Moyake and Mndebele's Pearl Fishers duet was a major highlight too, and massed encores included the Click Song (I'd have loved more South African music to be included).
In an age where the progress made towards racial equality and away from discrimination sometimes seems to be stalling, or at worst reversing in certain parts of the world, here art and opera together proved that talent and the drive to be creative and to bring music to people know no such boundaries - proving how plain stupid the very notion of racism is.
One day, far in the future, perhaps people will scratch their heads and say to one another, "Did you know, 200 years ago people actually used to judge each other by the colour of their skins or by which fairy-tale they believed in? Can you imagine how they could be such idiots?" And they'll laugh, and buy each other drinks and chocolate, and sit in the sunshine enjoying a few minutes of hilarity over the morons who were still alive and well in the 21st century thinking that such ideas were even valid - before they get on with creating their new opera about real people, genuine emotion and universal questions.
For the time being, we can only do what we can each do, and I know how much it would have meant to my parents to see a black Don Giovanni singing 'Là ci darem' to a white Zerlina and a mixed company of singers all together for Miriam Makeba's wonderful party-piece Click Song. It wouldn't have been possible in the days when they left and refused to go back. I'm proud of them. Now I'm also pleased to be going back myself: I'll be there again in January and hope to visit Cape Town Opera on location, all being well. We can only do what we can do, but if we can do something, we should. Together, we can click.