When Angelo Gobbato realised that he might have to get rid of some of the recorded material of his work that he had kept and treasured for decades, and death stole most of his closest friends who had shaped his opera musical career, he decided that it was time to write a book.
The 75-year-old Tamboesrskloof resident and opera legend published his autobiography titled Passion for Opera, telling the history of opera in the country, particularly Cape Town’s and sharing his own passion for opera music.
Milan-born, Mr Gobbato immigrated to South Africa with his family when he was six years old. While not everyone knew their passion at the tender age of three, Mr Gobbato knew that all he wanted to do was to sing opera.
Although he believes that his passion was of genetic origin, to him opera was not just music.
He writes in the book: “But, for me, opera is not just a question of music – and a specialised brand of vocal music at that – but also one of theatrical performance, with a strongly characterised physical interpretations set like a jewel in magnificent scenery. In fact, my personal memories of my early life seem to centre more on participation in theatrical extravagances than on music-making.”
He said he was privileged because his parents knew his passion and used to take him to most of the operatic productions which were performed at the then newly built Alhambra Theatre.
“Everyone was supportive in my family; my grandmother and my parents knew that all I wanted to do was to sing opera,” he said.
Recalling those days, he writes: “Knowing also that opera singers had generally had a healthy appetite for good food, we regularly invited some of them for home-made pasta. I have vivid memories of convivial meals after which my voice would join with the voices of these professional singers in popular Italian songs and I still treasure the many autographed photos they left me.”
Mr Gobbato was a driving force in the creation of Cape Town Opera, housed at the Artscape, and discovered many talented black South African singers at a time that the country was divided by apartheid. Among those are Abel Motsaodi, Fikile Mvinjelwa and Marcus Desando.
“My students, colleagues, and many opera singers became my extended family,” he said.
Mention the name Pretty Yende and Mr Gobbato beams with pride. The now internationally acclaimed soprano is one of his star pupils whom he refers to as his daughter.
“She’s a star, an absolute star. Her voice is magnificent, she has a bright future ahead of her and I’m so proud of her,” he said.
Touching on the most challenging times in opera theatre in Cape Town, Mr Gobbato recalls the opening of the then Nico Malan Theatre, now the Artscape Theatre, which he said was funded by the Cape provincial administration and had to comply with apartheid laws that designated it as a “whites only” building.
He recalls in his book: “On the opening night, students mounted a peaceful demonstration outside the Nico, handing out pamphlets decrying segregation, while the Black Sash demonstrated in Lower Burg Street holding placards. Although this was to change with time, there are still people in Cape Town who have not set foot in what is now the Artscape Theatre Complex because of this original sin.”
Mr Gobbatto has received numerous awards over the years which include the Merit Award from the Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage of the Western Cape in recognition of his outstanding achievement in and contribution to the performing arts, the Western Cape Premier’s Award for Special Contribution to the Cultural Life of the Western Cape; the Khula Award for music; and an honorary doctorate from the University of Cape Town for his contribution to the transformation of the vocal arts in South Africa.
Upon his retirement, UCT granted him the title of emeritus professor.