World Premiere of La Bohème launches partnership with acclaimed South African theatre company

16 February 2012

Cape Town - Isango Ensemble’s upcoming world premiere of their extraordinary new adaptation of Puccini’s classic opera La Bohème marks the beginning of a unique partnership between the acclaimed South African theatre group and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Drawn from townships across South Africa, Isango’s cast have packed theatres around the world with their multi-award-winning and distinctly African re-workings of musical masterpieces such as Carmen and The Magic Flute.

Their production of La Bohème, where the heroine Mimi dies of tuberculosis, moves the setting from the garrets of Paris in the first half of the nineteenth century to a contemporary African township.  Isango’s interpretation retains all the musical brilliance of Puccini’s most popular opera but brings new meaning and relevance to the work given that TB continues to devastate communities in the townships and across the country.

Coming from the townships the cast knows the brutal realities of the disease.

“I’ve had a lot of friends and relatives who have died of TB,” says Pauline Malefane, who plays Mimi in Isango’s production, “It’s a very sensitive issue and it’s an issue that is very close to everybody’s lives.”

Together with the Global Fund, Isango’s work will help promote greater international awareness and action in fighting tuberculosis, a mass killer across the globe and particularly in South Africa which has some of the world’s highest rates.

“La Bohème is a glittering piece of musical history,” said Isango’s Director Mark Dornford-May, “but it also contains a searing emotional cry for understanding and action about the brutal realities of the everyday life of the poor and their struggle for shelter, food and medicine.”

The world premiere takes place 23 February 2012 in Cape Town, before it transfers to the Hackney Empire theatre in London in May 2012 at the start of an international tour.

The Global Fund is delighted that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a TB survivor and Chair of the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, joins us and Isango in co-hosting the world premiere and Special Gala Performance in Cape Town.

Tuberculosis killed almost 1.5 million people in 2010, and in that same year WHO estimates that there were 8.8 million cases. South Africa is third on the WHO list of world’s highest TB burden countries. In this country alone, 25,000 people died of the disease in 2010 and 490,000 cases were detected.

Visit the Global Fund’s La Bohème microsite.

Watch a sneak preview of Isango rehearsing “La Bohème”.

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