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Hitting the High Notes of Campaign Fundraising

With the challenge of raising R5 million to match a closing grant from the Mellon Foundation to the UCT Opera School, the fundraising campaign would need to be a harmoniously orchestrated plan involving several constituencies. This was the task laid out for our fundraising team of the Development and Alumni Department. Apart from the invested support of patrons who make regular individual donations, new partnerships were sought through corporates and foundations that value the transformative influence of the performing arts. The curtain was raised on the campaign in 2014, with the goal of raising the matching grant by 2017 and thereby setting the stage for a more sustained effort of building an endowment. A highlight of these efforts was the substantial pledge of R 5 million from Dr Haruhisa Handa through the International Foundation for Arts and Culture. The campaign has already received R2.5 million of this pledge, celebrating a new donor relationship with Dr Handa and UCT, through the foundation.

While every pledge and donation played a significant role in building cumulative support, the success of the campaign is no less attributed to the remarkable talent of our opera students who grace the world’s stages from humble beginnings. The School prides itself on discovering vocal talent amidst impoverished communities that are rich in musical culture, turning the fragile dreams of young singers into real opportunities. With more young black singers from South Africa taking on the global stage, the world of opera is literally changing to a more youthful and diverse representation of this timeless art form.   Even though it is traditionally associated with European culture, opera has become most relevant in the context of a transforming society such as South Africa. The highly visual and dynamically vocal aspects of the genre lend itself to the energetic buoyancy of traditional African storytelling and this blend of culture creates a compelling expression of a more cohesive society.

Over the past decade, the Mellon Foundation provided significant funding for the Opera School that saw numerous students develop successful international careers. As this funding partnership drew to a close in 2014, the closing grant challenge was that the foundation would release R5 million under the condition that UCT raised the same. It would create the opportunity for an initial endowment of R10 million to be nurtured into an eventual self-sustaining investment. Over a series of fundraising events that showcased the rich talent of our school, donors pledged support through both operational and endowment funding. The campaign was indeed a global effort, with fundraising activity particularly strong in South Africa and the UK, apart from USA, Canada, and Australia. The MariaMarina Foundation was among the first major donors, with a commitment over three years specifically for voice coaching and production expenses. Besides the pledge from Dr Handa, other major contributions came from the Millennium Trust, Rialto Foods, Saldanha Sales and Marketing, Dr Max Price, Sir Simon Robertson, the Harbour Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and the Claude Leon Foundation.

Our Opera School is particularly proud of an array of stars who have emerged from the comprehensive programme of theory and practice, taking their rightful place among the world’s best. These well-earned accolades can be ascribed to the commitment of the School to maintain the highest teaching and coaching standards, setting the precedent for inspiring stories of success:

Pretty Yende presently lives in Milan and is based at the prestigious La Scala Opera House

Musa Ngqungwana is currently based in Philadelphia as a resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts

Pumeza Matshikiza signed a record deal with Decca and secured a three year contract with Stuttgart Opera

Thesele Kemane is currently taking up his fellowship for an Artist Diploma at the Juilliard, New York

Golda Schultz has made debuts in several opera houses around the world and this year returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper as a member of their ensemble

Siyabulela Ntlale took second place at the 2014 International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition

Levy Sekgapane was overall winner of the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in 2015

These are just a few of the many young singers who have risen to international stardom through the support and training they have received from the UCT Opera School. The story is yet far from over, with the long-term goal to raise at least R40 million for the Opera School endowment. Given the trajectory of the campaign thus far we are hopeful of garnering further support and sustaining the high notes of operatic success.

Story by Merlin Ince

For Giving@UCT Volume 3 May 2016

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