Comfort Ye

Music Theatre based on autobiographical texts and songs
written by young South African singers.

It’s six o’clock in the morning. A boy kisses a girl, then runs away. The police arrive…

A new opera based on the lives of young choral singers was the fourth production in Umculo’s five-year history of working with professional music theatre teams in the disadvantaged communities around Johannesburg and Cape Town.

A dark story full of ambiguities, Comfort Ye follows the lives of its protagonists through an eventful 24 hours. Love, loss, a chase, a murder, rumours of abuse, families divided, and an ultimate message of hope – all these events are drawn from the everyday lives of the young performers.

In a libretto by Robert Lehmeier co-authored by 12-to-19-year-olds from the disadvantaged community of Kraaifontein and Umculo’s international leading team, including the acclaimed writer Fatima Dike, texts in Xhosa and English are set to music by Handel, the young participants themselves, and composer Catherine Milliken. Arias and choruses meet riffs and chants; experimental rhythms and sounds shift to 18th-century
symphonies. Umculo regards opera as an ideal medium for social discourse,
and its productions draw on themes which are relevant to the communities involved.

The participatory creation process through which Comfort Ye was made ensured that contemporary themes were developed and expressed through innovative forms. An experienced leading team, extensive local support, international partnerships and a long development time-frame guaranteed a high level of professionalism in the finished production.

Creative exchange and eye-level skills-sharing assured a project which speaks strongly to a broad-based community audience, as well as carrying strong international resonance. In South Africa, where choral singing and opera are more popular than football, stories told through song carry a long history of vitality, and strike a chord with a majority of the population. In Europe, opera companies seek ways to interest younger generations in music theatre. One country’s strength is the other’s deficit; a partnership brings mutual benefit.

Comfort Ye brought the music of Handel, Bach, Milliken and today’s youth to a peer-based audience of young singers in South Africa. Creative workshops afforded audience members the chance to understand the project on a deeper level through their own imaginative process.

Concept/Libretto/Stage Direction: Robert Lehmeier
Music: Georg Friedrich Handel and Cathy Milliken
Arrangement of Handel/Musical Director: Warwick Stengards


Comfort Ye is winner of the YAMA Music Award 2015!

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