Umculo is a Xhosa word which means both art music and reconciliation. Song unites South Africa´s diverse and divided population, and choral music is at the core of almost every school, company, church, community centre, and even prison in the country. South Africa´s choirs have long since embraced the music of opera as their own, with hundreds of thousands of young people across the country hearing and singing opera every day.

Umculo is a vision that is larger than its component parts. It is a vision of hope for South Africa built on the extraordinary music talent and optimism of a young community at risk.




Romeo’s Passion, By Umculo (Germany / South Africa)

*The Best Opera award is powered by RESEO

(The European network for opera, music and dance education)

The jury was overwhelmed by almost every aspect of this original production. With a multi-layered, open-ended story set to a delicious mix of traditional South African and contemporary music and performed by world-class singers, this is opera that needs to be seen and heard. In spite of having minimal staging resources, the production was engaging and deeply moving. We thought the approach to the subject of LGBT+ rights would be of tremendous value for communities around the world. The company were brave and intelligent to perform in and amongst the teenage audience in the way that they did, symbolically placing the opera in and amongst society. We could hear in the applause at the end what an impact they have on that audience. We felt privileged to witness it.

Umculo is the winner of the Classical Next Innovation Award, presented in Rotterdam on 20 May, 2019

South Africans – a huge majority of them living below the poverty line – sing opera. From her home base in Berlin, South African-born Shirley Apthorp founded Umculo to bring together European know-how with South African talent and insight. Since 2010, it has produced ten operas in, with and for South Africa’s disadvantaged communities.

“I’m thrilled and grateful and excited to receive this award because it’s something that is really very useful to us as an organisation. We have a problem in South Africa. The problem is that we cannot meet the demand of the people who want to sing opera. […] We innovative because we have to, because we need to think experimentally.” – Shirley Apthorp, director, Umculo


Umculo is thrilled to be the winner of the 2019 International Opera Awards in the Education and Outreach category.

The award was presented on – 29 April in a special ceremony at Sadler’s Wells in London.


Romeo’s Passion

Composer: Catherine Milliken; Libretto/ Direction: Robert Lehmeier

Cast to include: Rheinald Tshepo Moagi; Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi; Sibongile Mollo; Vuyisa Jack; Thabiso Masimene

Love is in the air. Love is everywhere. Sometimes Love hides. Sometimes you have to fight for it or risk your life standing up for it. Sometimes being truthful to yourself can be your biggest challenge in life.

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St John’s Passion

Bach wrote his St John’s Passion in 1724 to tell one of the greatest stories of human history. Umculo brings Bach’s vision of human suffering, compassion and unity to Johannesburg with a new staging that brings together six community choirs with professional musicians from South Africa and Europe.

South African director Kobie van Rensburg joins German conductor Felix Bender in a dramatised production of Bach’s extraordinary work. “The St John’s Passion” turns a Bible story that is core to Western philosophy and belief structures into a universal human drama, a tale of injustice, violence, alienation and remorse, viewed from a perspective of empathy.

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