Umculo e.V.

Umculo is an international organisation dedicated to supporting social development through music theatre in South Africa.

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Umculo is a non-profit organisation that fosters social development through music theatre in South Africa’s disadvantaged communities, using international expertise to tackle burning social issues. Umculo’s team believes that all levels of society deserve access to artistic excellence.

Founded in 2010 by Berlin-based South African/ Australian music journalist Shirley Apthorp, Umculo produces fully-staged productions in, with and for South African communities which would not otherwise experience opera live. While Umculo employs South African professional performers and administrators, the company’s European leaders work on a largely voluntary basis.

Literally hundreds of thousands of young South Africans sing opera. Through hugely popular, nationally-networked choir competitions, young people are introduced to solo, ensemble, and choral opera repertoire. Unfortunately, few of them will ever attend a professional opera performance.

Umculo brings South African singers together with local and international professionals to create low-budget productions with high artistic standards for these communities, offering a series of schools workshops and follow-up sessions to attending high school learners. Its productions have taken the company across the country and through a wide range of different communities, as well as winning international acclaim (YAMA Award 2016, inaugural Rotterdam Opera Days special mention 2017, etc). Many of these productions have drawn together participants from communities usually in conflict with one another, and all have tackled pressing social topics, from gender-based violence to racism. - King Arthur (2011) - Fairy Queen (2012-13) - Comfort Ye (2014-15) - Figaro (2016) - Lamento (2016) - Schande (2017) - St John’s Passion (2018) - St John's Passion (2018) - Romeo’s Passion (2018)

In May 2018, Umculo presented a production of Bach’s Johannespassion staged by Kobie van Rensburg and conducted by Felix Bender in the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Meadowlands, Soweto, at the invitation of the Church Elders. 120 singers from eight community choirs joined together for the event, which included professional soloists and chamber choir with a baroque orchestra playing at A=415, a first for South Africa for this work. All three performances were full to overflowing, and community involvement, from toddlers to grandmothers, was extensive and profound.

In September 2018, Umculo staged the world premiere of “Romeo’s Passion”, a new chamber opera - libretto by Robert Lehmeier, music by Cathy Milliken. A coming out story, it was presented in Hillbrow, an inner-city area of Johannesburg troubled by violence, substance abuse, xenophobia and crime. By working in partnership with local organisations, Umculo was able to stage seven sold-out performances for local teenagers and adults with professionally mediated discussions on gender and identity. The University of Bayreuth conducted an audience survey documenting substantial social impact.

In 2019, Umculo plans a new chamber opera on the topic of “corrective” rape by an all-female creative team from the township of Langa, Cape Town; the company is currently seeking funding to enable it to continue this and other work. This award could be critical to Umculo’s survival.

participating in

  • Classical:NEXT 2019
  • Classical:NEXT 2017
  • Classical:NEXT 2016
  • C:N NET


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