When black South African composer Mzilikazi Khumalo came to the realization that most of what had been written about nineteenth-century Zulu King Shaka was written by Westerners and portrayed him negatively—despite the fact that he is viewed as one of the great empire builders of all time in Africa itself by his having successfully united all of the fragmented Zulu tribes—he set out to tell Shaka’s story through music and from an African perspective. The result, “uShaka,” not only sets out to set the record straight, but to convey the story via African music, dance and culture and is even sung in the Zulu language (with English subtitles). International singing sensation Sibongile Khumalo stars as the King with a thunderous yet hauntingly beautiful bass voice that recalls Paul Robeson in his prime (think Darth Vader if he could sing) and an ensemble of seventy singers and dancers in full tribal regalia from South Africa’s Opera Africa, the same creative forces behind Ravinia’s 2004 memorable American premiere of the first South African opera, “Princess Magogo.” The Chicago Sinfonietta will be conducted by Leslie B. Donner, who premiered the piece in Europe and Africa. The composer himself will speak in a 7:15pm Martin Theater presentation before the opera’s Thursday performance with performances by area school children. (Dennis Polkow)
“ uShaka” will be performed June 8 & 9 at 8pm at Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook and Green Bay Roads, Highland Park, (847)266-5100.