South Africa’s Janet Suzman tu

Rehearsals for Royal Academy of Music’s Le Nozze di Figaro

South Africa’s Janet Suzman turns her hand to Opera in London

Janet Suzman says Opera is the posh musical end of theatre.

South Africa’s Janet Suzman tu

Rehearsals for Royal Academy of Music’s Le Nozze di Figaro

Esteemed South African actress, Janet Suzman, the award-winning star of stage and screen and author, has endless curiosity, the latest strand being how to direct an opera.

“Opera is the posh musical end of theatre,” says Suzman smiling. “So why should I not have a go at it? Instead of talking, like in a play, we sing our hearts out.”

Her choice of opera is Mozart’s popular Marriage of Figaro which was staged at the elegant Hackney Empire from 30 October to 2 November, starring singers from the Royal Academy of Music.

“Everyone has heard of Mozart, the big boy of music, so why not come to hear the most sublime sounds and the silliest comedy anyone ever wrote?  I have set it in Cuba just before the revolution, circa 1959 – Che Guevara’s moment in history.

“I love working with students, all graduating students from the Royal Academy of Music, and the conductor is the best woman conductor of the age, Jane Glover. So who’s a lucky girl then? Me!”

Born in Johannesburg, the daughter of a tobacco wholesaler who was also the athlete who sat on the South African Olympic Commission, Janet’s aunt was the fearless Helen Suzman the anti-apartheid activist and politician.

She studied at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she joined the University Players, before moving to London to train at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) and join the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) to become one of the London stage’s most important classical actresses.

She has also appeared in many films and TV series and regularly works back in South Africa. We last saw her here in the West End in Dream of the Dog at the Trafalgar Studios and in SKY series Sinbad as Sinbad’s grandmother, Safia.

In 2011 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) and has half a dozen honorary degrees from UCT and British universities.

“There are no great parts for women who are older, no Lear, Hamlet, Othello roles,” she comments.

“Older women are left with granny roles when a few of us are ready to play King Lear, say. Only Cleopatra stands head and shoulders above the others. Now I am a director first, actor second and I find directing very rewarding.”