Tapiwa: An Opera in Shona language

“I have been commissioned by Artists in Action in Harare, Zimbabwe, to compose the score for an opera entitled ‘Tapiwa’. It is based on a two-hundred year-old legend involving a dispute concerning a woman (Tendai) not being able to produce a child by her husband (Tambo). The opera opens with discussion about her being returned to her village. A devious spirit medium (Svikiro) plots to have his way with Tendai by announcing that she is dedicated to the River God (Njuzu). After the dedication, she ‘miraculously’ produces a child (Tapiwa). But the rains have failed, there is drought and the people of the village blame their misfortune on three-year-old Tapiwa whom they accuse of being a witch. They shun and marginalise her and subsequently stone her to death.


The opera is the first in Shona, a Zimbabwean language spoken by over 70% of the people in this country. It is in two acts and based on a two-hundred year old story from the Shashe River near Great Zimbabwe Ruins. The libretto is by Susan Hains, a local producer and director and the translation is by Chirikure Chirikure, a poet and musician of note. I was asked to compose the score because of my long-term experience with Shona music which has involved some intensive study”. (Keith Goddard: Application for temporary resident composer at the University of Graz).


Why a Shona opera?

“In a country ravaged by drought, starvation, soaring inflation, 75% unemployment, malgovernance, political violence, state oppression of women and homosexuals and a 2,500 per week death rate from AIDS, the staging of a lavish opera would seem the ultimate obscenity. But not everything in life must resolve around urgent humanitarian needs. Zimbabwe has a vibrant cultural life but has never witnessed the production of opera in any languages other than English, German or Italian. Nearly all black Zimbabweans think of opera as music for whites. The stimulus for this project is magic and a wonderment in a scenario of death and disaster. This is entertainment in the best sense of the word.

Tapiwa is a piece of magical theatre but, even so, the drama is riddled with metaphors of modern life in Zimbabwe: oppression of women, sexual abuse, political scapegoating, propaganda and the cynical misuse of power for personal enrichment. It can be read as a grim fairy tale or as a political discussion.” from: Keith Goddard, „Tapiwa. An Opera in Shona in Two Acts (unfinished).