When the soprano Zanne Stapelberg walks onto a stage, one cannot help but being transported by her smouldering, passionate voice – whether it is the sound of opera or jazz that comes cascading from her lips. When she performed at the Woordfees earlier this year, the tickets were sold out weeks in advance. Stephanie Nieuwoudt asked this former Matie a few questions.
Why did you originally decide to study at Stellenbosch University?
I chose to study at SU because I believe the university has the best music department in the country. I also did not want to study singing under anyone else but Magdalena Oosthuizen, head of the department of singing at the Konservatorium. Twenty years later I am still taking singing lessons from Magdalena.
You are a mother, woman, singer and now also to be seen in the soapie Villa Rosa. How do you cope with all these roles?
I am incredibly passionate about what I do. Being a mother is without a doubt the most important role I have ever played. I have two live performances a week on average and I try as often as I can to take my husband and children along when I travel. This is wonderful, because we get to see the world together.
You have been described as a musical recce. What does this mean for you?
It is one of the biggest compliments I have ever been given. I would like to be remembered as someone who is innovative and shifts boundaries. I am also rather difficult and struggle to obey rules. This is one of the reasons I started my own production company, Long Tall Woman Productions. Now I can make the rules and also break them.
My production company has already tackled three Spanish productions, an opera cabaret, lieder programmes and opera-arias. My latest production, Spieël Spieël, consists of alternative Afrikaans music written by my “gang member”, Kathleen Tagg, and myself.
I have always been keen to write my own music and I therefore regard this as a very important project. Kathy lives in New York and comes to South Africa twice a year for our projects. We also compose music on Skype.
Our album of Spanish music, Soul of Fire, was released last year and the stage production based on it was described by Darren Taylor of the radio station Voice of America as one of the most remarkable music productions to come out of South Africa. It meant a great deal to me to receive that acknowledgement.
I am also involved in the Artscape programme, Audience Development and Education, and recently participated in the production, Awethu Kraal of Dreams, together with the Community Ploughback Movement from Langa, the Vadhinie Indian Dance School, the Indigenous Orchestra, jazz singer Melanie Scholtz and Abelusi, a group from the Desmond Tutu Centre in King Williamstown. The town has a training centre for young actors and artists and I shall be visiting the school soon to offer workshops for the children. Next year I will be visiting the Guild Theatre in East London for a concert and to present a workshop for the students.
What is your advice to young people who want to venture into the world of classical music?
You must be able to work very hard. I have about 100 shows this year, 24 performances of which are in August, when I can be seen in Deon Opperman’s musical, Ons vir jou. This requires good planning, discipline and focus. But I love what I am doing, so it does not really feel like work. One also has to be versatile. There are so many possibilities for experimentation, growth and development in the South African art and music world, and this makes me very excited. It is an incredible privilege to be part of such a dynamic industry. My advice to young people is to work harder than all the people around you.
Be focused and disciplined. Set goals for yourself and do not wait for other people to offer you work. Create work yourself. And don’t be afraid of taking chances. Finally: Always surround yourself with people from whom you can learn.