Interview with Barbara Weissenbeck, director of SINGING FOR LIFE
When did you hear about these opera singers for the first time?
It all began two years ago, when I received a phone call from a friend who had been working for several years as choirmaster at the Cape Town Opera. He told me about these incredibly talented singers he was working with in Cape Town. And he convinced me to come to Nuremberg’s Opera House, where they had a guest performance, to see and, more importantly, hear them sing.
I decided there and then to buy a train ticket and went to Nuremberg. And he was right! I was deeply moved by these extraordinary voices. These clear and unbelievably powerful voices fascinated me and awakened a longing in me. I wanted to meet these people and find out more about their lives, and also find out the answer to the burning question: Why are the voices so touching? What is that power behind them?
More than a year passed before I set off for Cape Town to begin research for the film and to meet, once again, the friends I had made in Nuremberg. I watched them rehearse, and visited them in their homes in the townships to get an idea of how they lived their daily lives.
What was so intriguing for you to make a film about them?
I was convinced that the film would captivate and thrill audiences – just as the extraordinary singers had captivated me back then in Nuremberg.
I was immediately taken in by their “joie de vivre” their strong will to progress and to fight for the family, regardless of the living conditions in South Africa. They were far from desolate and wayward, or resigned to their fate. Quite the opposite, in fact: I encountered courage and hope – and happy people.
That inspired me to get this film underway with all of my strength. It is difficult for us to imagine how these people cope with their lives and their situation – and how they do it with an amazing lust for life by taking their lives into their own hands, not waiting around for any help from the government or anybody else.
How did you find your protagonists?
It was not difficult to find my main protagonist, FIKILE MVINJELWA, who is really one of the most famous baritons in South Africa. I first met him, when he was singing in Berlin at the Deutsche Oper.
Attending the annual auditions I came across THAMI SIMKAPULA, who was then one of the candidates to sing at the university. Even I have heard and seen there lots of great young singers, he impressed me most. And immediately after the audition we worked together.
Most difficult was though to find the youngest of these singers, MANDI NJOHI. It took me months to discover her in the middle of this huge township of Khayelitsha. Although it is very difficult to keep contact with her, I am still trying to follow up on her life.
How was the film shooting in the townships? They are know
as dangerous ….
Filming inside the townships would not have been possible for us as a white team without having great connections to people from inside the townships. They were the ones to accompany us and lead us to all the places we were shooting. Yet, we never had any security team with us, as I wanted to be there in the most authentic way that was possible for us. We encountered some dangerous situations, but mainly what I’ve treasured is the great openness and friendliness that was shown to us during work. I am still in contact with some of these people and I hope to get the chance of meeting them again.
What is your personal connection to opera?
Before I started this film I had no special connection to opera. But now during these 3 years I established a kind of deeper understanding for this art form and it really touched me.
Fikile is the most famous bariton in Cape Town.
He seems to be very relaxed in the film ….
When I met Fikile for the first time I was very much impressed by his openness and his being a very regular, family oriented man. I felt immediately very welcomed in his house and his family. Maybe this connection made him also feel that much relaxed being in front of the camera. And anyway, he could be a great actor as well. He just loves the camera and it was very playful and just great working with him.
Give us three wishes for your film …
I wish that the film travels so that as many people as possible get touched by these singers and learn about these talents.
It’s fantastic that NHK (Japanese national broadcaster) already bought the film. We are working on further sales. So fingers crossed!
I wish that I can help raising an opera training initiative inside the townships by raising funding through this film.
You can donate money also through this website! And we will keep you informed on that initiative …
I wish to continue this film in 10 years, showing what has happened to these singers and to South Africa by then.