Sunday, March 10, 2013



Today was one of those magical -musicals days in New York.

I had to meet Len van Zyl, and old friend from South Africa for breakfast. 
Len is a very special man ,who puts his money where his mouth is.He sponsors a South Africa conductor's competition in associations with the Symphony Orchestra of Cape Town. Unlike in America, there is no  tax break for any money given to charities in South Africa. Len  brings the winner to the USA with his wife Elise, and at their expense , house and feed him/her for three month in Philadelphia and Chicago. The winner interns with the Philharmonic Orchestra and attend master classes.

Len who had a successful international career in the fields of advertising and marketing, also has a passionate interest in music throughout his life. His career included among others the chairman of South Africa's biggest advertising agency (Lindsay Smithers-FCB). President /CEO of Foote Cone & Belding the  advertising agency in Philadelphia USA from 1992-1995.He was also the chief executive of the South African Foreign Trade Organization (SAFTO) Len and his wife ,Elise, now split their residence between Cape Town and Philadelphia USA. During the years in the USA he served on the development committee of the famous Philadelphia Orchestra and was also a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild.
This morning Len brought the latest winner of this competitions, Xavier Cloete, to New York from Philadelphia for the day . After breakfast we were all going to a performance of Verdi's "Don Carlos"  at the Metropolitan Opera and see the 83 year old conductor Lorin Maazel  on the podium.

Brandon Philips, Len van Zyl,  Xavier Cloete

The first winner three years ago was Brandon Phillips who  received a big boost in his career after his time in the USA.

Xavier Cloete

Xavier Cloete started playing the bassoon in 2006 under Ingo Holland. After graduating with BMus degree in 2011 from the Stellenbosch University, he was accepted at the KwaZulu -Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO) as a cadet and is currently continuing his studies in conducting under the resident conductor of the KZNPO Lykele Temmingh.  Xavier also assists with rehearsing the  KZN Youth orchestra. In the USA he will enjoy an internship with the famous Philadelphia Orchestra and then proceed to the Northwestern University in Chicago for a semester in the graduating class of Maestro Victor Yampolsky.All thanks to Len and his generosity.

Xavier Cloete

Xavier Cloete

To join us was another of Len's protégés - the 28 year old bass baritone Musa Ngqungwana.
He was in New York to appear in the  concert for the Nationalist Council Audition  finalists  concert  at the Metropolitan Opera on Sunday afternoon, hosted by soprano Sondra Radvanofsky.

Musa is a third year student at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and has a beautiful bass baritone voice that can incorporate the Bel Canto repertoire.
Listen to his voice here:

Musa did not join us for the opera as he needed his rest for his big day on Sunday

With so many South Africa classical musicians it is very sad that the ANC Government feel that opera and classical music is too  Eurocentric to deserve any financial support from them. The private sector receives no tax break if they want to sponsor it, so there is a  danger that classical music and orchestras will disappear in Southern Africa. The Cape Town orchestra has stopped their very popular Sunday evening performances and hanging on by the skin of their teeth. The Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra is bankrupt and does no exist anymore.  In Durban we still have the KwaZulu -Natal Orchestra, of which Xavier is a member. Their Chief Executive  and Artistic Director is Bongani Tembe that knows how to work the system, and he was able to bring  Renee Fleming to South Africa to perform.

Pretty Yende

Elza van den Heever

At the Metropolitan Opera we had two South African sopranos making  their debuts in January of 2013 with great acclaim-. Elza van den Heever and Pretty Yende.
Since the 1980's South African singers has been singing at the Metropolitan Opera-
Elizabeth Connell, Marita Napier, Deon van der Walt, Johan Botha, Kobie van Rensburg. Elza van den Heever and  Pretty Yende .Next season the South Africa soprano Amanda Eschelaz will make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera  as "Madame Butterfly" in Puccini's opera.


The opera started at 11:00 am today as the union rules state that the orchestra has to have a 3 hours break between performances . "Francesca di Rimini" was schedules for 6:00 pm this evening .
Jerry joined us as he took the early train for Trenton to be in time for the early performance.
Xavier was very excited to see Lorin Maazel .

Ferrucio Furlanetto as King Philip 11  in "Don Carlos"

Verdi's "Don Carlos"is based on the writings of  Friedrich Schiller .The opera  is set in Spain in 1560 during the reign of Philip ll of Spain. The other characters are his third wife Elizabeth de Valois and his son Don Carlo. Elizabeth was first betrothed to Carlos but then  had to marry the King for political reason, even while she was in love with her stepson.This forms the plot of this opera triangular that ends tragically .
The singers in the performance were:-
Don Carlos- Ramon Vargas
King Philip11 - Ferruccio Furlanetto,
Elisabetta- Barbara Frittoli
Rodrigo- Dimitri Hvorostofsky
Princess Eboli- Anna Smirnova.
The Grand Inquisitor- Eric Halverson.
 The conductor was Lorin Maazel.

Lorin Maazel

Ramon Vargas

Barbara Frittoli

Anna Smirnova + Dimitri Hvorostofsky

When the jealous Princess Eboli tells the King that the  Queen is having an affair with his son- the whole story come to an dramatic end . It was a wonderful and exciting performance and one felt blessed to witness such great singers and musicians on stage, and we left on a high!

King Philip 11 of Spain

Elizabeth de Valois

In real life King Philip 11 was very much in love with his third wife Elizabeth de Valois when she arrived in Spain as his 14 year old bride. His second  wife was Queen Mary  (Bloody Mary)  of England  ( Elizabeth 1 sister)  .Elizabeth de Valois was a French princess and her mother was Catherine de Medici of Florence who married a French prince who became King Henry 11 of France.
Elizabeth  grew up with two other famous  women who also became immortalized in opera -
 Mary, Queen of Scots ,who was her sister in law .Gaetano Donizetti wrote his opera "Maria Stuarda" about her tragic life. The other was Elizabeth's younger sister  Marguerite de Valois Queen of Navarre . In  "Les Huguenots" the  French opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer Joan Sutherland's interpretation  became synonyms with this queen.
Elizabeth had 2 daughters with the King Philip 11 and she seemed to be happy in her marriage to her "charming prince " as she wrote to her mother. There is no mention of her being in love with her stepson.

Carlos, Prince of Asturias

Don Carlos , her stepson ,who was supposed to be her lover in the opera was a rather different kettle of fish. Carlos left an unfavorable impression on some foreign ambassadors. The Venetian ambassador Hieronymo Soranzo thought that Carlos was "ugly and repulsive". The young Infante Carlos was delicate and deformed. He grew up proud and willful and, as a young adult, began to show signs of mental instability. Many of his physical and psychological afflictions may have stemmed from inbreeding  common to the House of Hapsburg and the royal houses of Portugal and Spain. Carlos had only four great-grandparents instead of the maximum of eight, and his parents had the same coefficient of coancestry as if they were half siblings. He had only six great-great-grandparents, instead of the maximum 16. His maternal grandmother and his paternal grandfather were brother and sister, his maternal grandfather and his paternal grandmother were also brother and sister, and his two great-grandmothers were sisters.He  exhibited an antipathy towards his father, whose murder, according to Carlo's confessor , he supposedly contemplated at one time. In the autumn of 1567 he made preparations to flee to the Netherlands. In January 1568 Don Carlos was arrested and placed in solitary confinement on his father's orders. He died in isolation six months later.


Len and Xavier left to explore more of New York.
 After Dinner with Jerry, who had to take the train back to Trenton, I came home and was very thankful to have spend such a full day and hear such beautiful music. How sad life would have been without it -and empty without such talented people around.

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