Opera in the Quarry: Bespoke World Cruise Event in Cape Town Immerses Guests in Music
As a South African, I’ve had many exceptionally proud moments. And February 23, 2022, when Silver Whisper called at Cape Town during its Tale of Tales World Cruise, marks an especially memorable experience.
That night, the Opera at the Quarry event, produced exclusively for Silversea’s world cruise guests, will go down as one that I will treasure always. To attend a spectacular performance in a breathtaking venue, listening to the voices of angels, eating a delectable five-course meal and seeing the admiration and awe of visitors to our shores, would have made any South African proud. This is who we are. This is South Africa’s heart.
A hallmark of any Silversea World Cruise is access to exclusively-planned events, this year in ports such as Cartagena, Seville and, of course, Cape Town. Months of planning went into putting together a bespoke event for one night only and Opera in the Quarry, as the event was aptly named, became much, much more. It was not only a showcase of South African talent on all fronts, but a demonstration of Silversea’s willingness to give back to not only the arts community, but the community at large.
Cape Town, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, has a tendency to show off. Also known as the Mother City of South Africa, it is home to immense natural beauty. There is Table Mountain, that majestic beast that welcomes visitors to the southern tip of Africa and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, acclaimed as one of the greatest botanic gardens in the world. Cape Town is African in its soul, diverse in its essence and cosmopolitan in its appeal.
Then there is rich and diverse artistic talent. Covering all genres, Cape Town is home to some of the best voices and musicians on the African continent, as well as world class artists, acclaimed writers and performers.
Hillcrest Quarry, the event site, was a working stone quarry till the late 1970’s. It’s become one of Cape Town’s most interesting venues, with enormous rock walls that enclose a natural lake and green rolling lawns. Yes, it is manmade in a sense, but Mother Nature is on full display. The venue is used for numerous events including sporting events, open air concerts and festivals and when Jannie Cloete, Silversea’s South African Director of Experiences and Events, saw it for the first time he knew: This is where the Cape Town event would be held.
“We already knew that the region had rich artistic music traditions and we wanted to showcase this as one of our exclusive-to-the-world cruise events. And yet, when we drove into the quarry for the first time, we knew this was our location,” he says. “The setting is spectacular and the location has links to the Cape Town harbor, where Silver Whisper is docked. Stone from the quarry was used to build the breakwater which essentially created the harbor.”
The timing of the event was planned so that guests arrived just as the sun was setting, reflecting golden hues on the rocky quarry walls.
Anna Davel was the director of Opera in the Quarry. She is an award-winning singer and songwriter, and sought-after producer and director focusing on musical theatre. “The voices and musicians were chosen not only because they are some of the best in South Africa, but because they always bring their all. This was a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved to show why the universal language of music is such an integral part of our beautiful country.”
Diving Deeply Into South African Culture and Cuisine
On arrival, the 180 Silversea guests were treated to a performance by the South African Youth Choir, a choir that was started in 2005 and consists of high school learners and students between the ages of 13 and 22. The choir – they were also part of the concert – is known for seeking out raw talent and providing them with a platform to develop their talents. While the choir sang and guests sipped on glasses of Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of Champagne, there was a remarkable display of elephant puppets by world-renowned Handspring Puppet Company.
The five-course meal by award-winning chef Mynhardt Joubert shared the best of South African dishes, and was served after the guests were seated. The menu was inspired by opera. So, for example, the edible flower and salmon trout terrine salad linked to the “Flower Duet”. Other dishes included a summer fillet (beef fillet marinated in paprika and olive oil and served with oven-roasted vine tomatoes, tender-stem broccoli and butter-fried gnocchi) and Italian dark chocolate pistachio Cake with purple parisian figs and a candied protea (the national flower of South Africa). The meal was accompanied by South African estate wines as well as 15-year old brandy from KWV, the oldest brandy producer in the country.
For many of us, the highlight of the evening was 18-year old Thandolwethu Longo who sang “Bring Him Home” from the musical Les Misérables. In his first performance with an orchestra in front of an audience, Thandolwethu mesmerized the audience with his strong voice and confidence. In a story written in the stars, Thandolwethu was discovered by two members of Cape Town Opera’s chorus who were judges at a talent competition at a local school. They were so impressed with his natural singing talent, that they set him up for an audition with the artistic team at Cape Town Opera.
“The talent we saw tonight was amazing. We enjoyed the mix of classical and African music,” said Josephine Young, who is traveling aboard Silver Whisper with her husband, Richard. This is their 10th Silversea cruise, and their first world cruise, and their first experience with the one-time-only events that are a signature World Cruise staples.
“It was a fantastic evening and the young man was a highlight,” said Mariusz Kukier. “This was the best experience on this cruise so far.”
When I spoke to Penny and Mike Lobb, who are on their fourth world cruise, they were also full of praise. “It was top rate and world class,” said Mike. “It was a fantastic evening and all that we have come to expect from Silversea.”
Indeed, we all agreed that beyond the voices, the music, the lifelike elephants, the food and the glorious setting, we witnessed something we might not have otherwise seen: The start of the young Thandolwethu’s very promising (perhaps inevitable) rise as a true opera star. In years to come, we will be able to say “I was there at the beginning.”
Beyond the Event, Silversea Commits to South Africa
It’s one thing to host a magnificent one-night-only exclusive event in Cape Town, but Silversea wants to leave more than memories behind via outreach. “During Covid, we had time to reflect on the legacy we can leave in the places we visit,” Cloete tells me. “In our event, we wanted to showcase the diversity and artistry of this rainbow nation, a term coined by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe South Africa’s people that are bound together like the colors of the rainbow.”
“Cape Town Opera was introduced to Silversea’s Jannie Cloete in 2021 as he and his team were beginning to create this event,” says Lesley Liddle, Business Development Manager at Cape Town Opera. “They were looking to contribute to the development of young people in the arts sector. At our very first meeting it was evident that a partnership between Cape Town Opera and Silversea would change the lives of young people in Cape Town Opera’s Foundation Studio Programme.”
The philanthropic focus for Silversea here offered a variety of opportunities. For the Butterfly House, a non-profit organization that supports children and youth who may be threatened by illness or life-limiting conditions, Silversea donated some multi-course meals, the same as enjoyed by its guests at the event. The Durbanville Children’s Home, just a stone’s throw from Hillcrest Quarry, is another passion project for the cruise line. It looks after 144 children in need of protection, and it was gifted with sanitizing machines and products to contribute to their welfare. As well, Silversea’s world cruise passengers donated 20 bags of knitting squares (knitting is a fun, communal activity on every world cruise) that could be used to create blankets for winter.
Probably the most moving philanthropic effort involved sponsorship of two students (of which Thandolwethu is one) to the Foundation Studio Programme at Cape Town Opera. Promising and passionate, these young people’s experience with the FSP will introduce them to a larger world and also provide some key necessities, such as hot meals and private transportation to and from lessons.
“It will change the lives of talented, young people, and prepare them for a career on stage,” Jannie tells us.
Indeed. “Our efforts in Cape Town really underscore Silversea’s own passion for travel that opens both hearts and minds,” says Conrad Combrink, Senior Vice President Expeditions, TurnAround Operations and Destination Management, who announced at the event that the line has doubled down to increase its sponsorship, which will take place over three years and include six young talented musical performers.
The Spirit of Ubuntu
Ubuntu is an indigenous Nguni term meaning “I am because we are”. As South Africans we try to live it, we teach it to our children and we aim to spread the love and meaning. At Opera in the Quarry I saw ubuntu in full force. Was it the concert that moved me to tears, that had me jumping up and joining the guests in the three standing ovations? Was it seeing young talent that has the ability to move mountains? Was it the fact that my partner for the evening was my 19-year old son and that he could witness another spectacular evening with South Africa in all her glory on display, an evening that also made him proud to be a child of the soil? Or maybe it was the fact that an international company like Silversea Cruises opened its heart to the talent and passion of not only the South African arts but also South African talent in organizing events, South African talent putting up a splendid meal, and South African talent showing why we are part of the world stage.
Thank you, Silversea, may you dock on our shores again soon. And like our anthem states: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. God bless Africa.