The biography of the legendary Mzilikazi Khumalo, describes Ushaka KaSenzangakhona as an opera - although it doesn't really have any acting performances; and it is more akin to a cantata. The piece comprises of 4 soloists (vocal), a poet/prase singer, a large choir and a full orchestra - comprising of 4 main parts charting the life of Shaka. There is an interesting Masters thesis which I briefly skimmed through regarding the authorship of the piece, specifically on the history of the orchestration of the piece; which sheds interesting light on both the complexities of musical collaboration, and the effort in tracking the contributions of the various parties in the collaboration.
In some respect, a piece celebrating the life of a warrior king, on Human Rights Day (weekend), is strange - but at the same time, the performance of a Zulu vocal work, written in the style of western classical music, performed at a venue that was once a bastion of Apartheid art performances is also a celebration of South Africa's democracy.
Joburg Theatre's production featured the Gauteng Choristers, Sibongile Khumalo as the lead soloist, joined by Thembisile Twala (soprano), Kananelo Sehau (tenor) and Nkosinathi Emmanuel Maqoma (bass) and the bulk of the JPO as the orchestra - and it was a rousing performance. The praise singer/poetry performance by Mhlonishwa Dlamini, was the only real performer on stage brought a vibrant energy, with many in the audience shouting replies back with equal gusto; and provided an amazing emotional depth to the various acts of the piece.
The piece is really amazing - the musical score, the choral and the vocal soloists combine to perform an amazing musical performance. It's a pity that this show was only for 2 performances - this is something that should be performed and attended by more people!