Navigating the pathway to a career in opera is a daunting quest, most especially for talented singers who emerge from challenging socio-economic circumstances. When you find someone with whom you can entrust your fears, hopes, and aspirations, it is like finding a treasure. You feel valued and empowered in pursuing your dream.
George Stevens was a treasured presence in the lives of many young students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Opera School. The role he played in their journey as teacher, coach, mentor, and father figure, was invaluable, and this is why his untimely passing has been such a tragic loss. George’s own distinguished career as an opera star meant that he could
draw on his own real life experiences to pave the way for so many others to international stardom.
This is the legacy we want to continue through the George Stevens Opera Scholarship. Given your shared passion for opera and your affinity with George as a well-loved opera icon, we would like you to create more opportunities for aspiring opera stars who might otherwise not be able to access professional training.
George worked in the vocal division of UCT Opera School since 2014 and assumed the role of acting director from October 2016. During this time he helped garner support for the Opera School Campaign. The fundraising goal of the campaign is to raise R20 million to enable students to receive comprehensive bursaries and for the Opera School to be able to provide the intensive resources necessary for nurturing operatic skill. Through much of George’s influence and support we have thus far secured R17 million.
The strength of our campaign lies in the support of friends like yourself who value the need to nurture aspiring youth as they pursue their dreams of becoming internationally recognised singers. Our Opera School is the only such facility on the continent that provides comprehensive undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, accompanied with individual voice coaching and the opportunity of performing to live audiences with full orchestras. George was among the illustrious group of internationally acclaimed artists and academics who crafted the comprehensive programme of theory and practice from which many of our students have graduated, and are now taking their rightful place among the world’s best.
The outpouring of emotion from students and staff at George’s memorial service on campus was a sad but moving reflection of the extent to which he touched people’s lives. This often went beyond the ordinary expectations of a teacher or colleague relationship. George was a close confidant who inspired individuals to soar beyond what they only saw as the present and imagine a future of limitless opportunities. He not only nurtured their dreams, but helped them to realize their full potential.
You have an opportunity to preserve and also to build on what George has left behind. Through donating to the George Stevens Opera Scholarship you will continue his legacy of transforming this timeless art form by bringing into the world of opera more youthful and diverse voices.
Your contribution to the George Stevens Opera Scholarship will ensure that more of our aspiring young stars have access to world-class operatic training every year in perpetuity. This will also help to close the funding shortfall of R3 million in our endowment and enable an ongoing financial resource for the School.
Every contribution will help make a significant difference in preserving the legacy of George Stevens through the students who will benefit from the scholarship each year. You may wish to be part of this initiative as an individual, a family, or even a group of friends who have been inspired by George’s example of selfless commitment and unbridled generosity to growing our next generation of Opera stars.
Fanele Mkhwanazi is the first recipient of the George Stevens Bursary in 2019. Her end of year results were extremely respectable – particularly her Lyric Diction marks, in which she showed great ability in her German studies:
Lyric Diction – 79
Opera Training – 69
Vocal – 70
Below is a summary written by Fanele of her highlights in 2019.
2019 has been a year of great transformation for me, both career wise and personally. I’ve had opportunities that have helped me grow so much. For instance, in September I was part of the Kaleidoscope production at school, where I played ‘Donna Anna’ in the sextet from Don Giovanni by Mozart. This was my first time playing a major role in a production at Opera school. It was challenging for me, as I’ve never done anything as extreme as it. I had to work so hard and push myself to my limits. If there’s anything I got out of that experience, it’s definitely courage. It made me realise that I needed to start being brave and not shy away from things that may seem impossible. I am definitely a little more brave now and daring.
Earlier on in August I got an invite to ‘Students Excellence Dinner.’ I was awarded with certificate for being in the Deans list.
Back in April I auditioned and I got chosen to be part of the semesterly student showcase concerts at the college. For this concert I sang ‘Deh, vieni non tardar’ by Mozart. This is one of my favourite pieces and it was given to me by Mr George Stevens. It’s been one of my ‘go to arias’ ever since.
I have done a few other performances outside of school as well, but the one that stands out the most is ‘Soundscapes’ with Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble conducted by Mr Faan Malan. Working in this production I got an opportunity to work with one of the most respected and adored sopranos in South Africa, Aviva Pelham. She directed the show and it was amazing. It was really a great experience and I learned so much from her.
On February 20 I was working with her again on another show the ‘Cape Philharmonic Orchestra Spectacular.’
I have managed to overcome so many challenges this year and I feel that I have grown so much with my singing. Even though I know there’s still a very long way to go, I am still very proud and grateful of my progress. This makes me really excited for the future and it is really motivating.