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For the many talented and qualified young singers with a passion to sing opera, as well as seeking a platform to perform, South Africa’s diva Mimi Coertse and celebrated opera director and costume designer Neels Hansen established The Black Tie Ensemble (BTE) in 1999.
Apart from ensuring continued live performances of opera and serious music, one of the aims of BTE was, and still is, to create a conduit for gifted singers to attain their goals and to nurture and develop their talents, as well as to offer talented artists with no formal training the opportunity to further their studies and to gain experience through the Incubator Scheme. BTE has been lauded for its developmental work and has also received awards in this regard. The BTE project was established mainly to create work in order to generate income for the singers on a continuous basis throughout the year and is largely dependant on corporate support for its continued growth.
Now that more opportunities are available to young singers, especially through the past eleven years’ activities of BTE, more facets of the Ensemble’s activities are being established and must be developed. The Black Tie Ensemble, which includes singers from diverse cultural backgrounds, has during the last eleven years developed into and established themselves as one of the most exciting classical music and singing projects in Gauteng. Since 2001, BTE has established its home at the South African State Theatre, Pretoria and has its offices and rehearsal venues in the same location. BTE has performed at concerts, Arts Festivals and corporate functions throughout South Africa, has successfully staged seven opera seasons, a critical acclaimed operetta season and also performed abroad to great acclaim. BTE is a serious developmental project and truly an investment in the future.
The Incubator Scheme
The Incubator Scheme, initiated in 2002, assists young talented artists with no formal singing training or means to acquire such training, to gain experience and possibly become part of The Black Tie Ensemble in the future. During their three-year apprenticeship these young artists receive all the necessary classes and tuition to develop into full blown opera artists. They also have the opportunity to perform and gain stage experience as well. A kind and farsighted sponsorship from Rand Merchant Bank and Sasol enables BTE to sustain this project.
The Adopt an Artist Scheme
The Black Tie Ensemble management creates opportunities for the Ensemble’s singers to generate their own income through BTE, which fluctuates depending on the number of performances of the individual singers. One such opportunity is the monthly dinner concerts, presented by the Mazzone family of Ristorante Ritrovo. With these concerts, they initiated an innovative sponsoring scheme whereby individuals or companies can adopt an artist, with the result that the adopted artists receive a fixed monthly allowance which allows them to pay for necessities such as housing in close proximity to The State Theatre, as transport from outlying areas and townships create logistical problems. The Mazzone family won a category award for this initiative during the 2003 BASA Awards.
The Black Tie Opera Chorus
In 2005, BTE’s sixth year of existence, a permanent opera chorus was established as the next step in the Ensemble’s development. This allows access to a semi professional opera chorus which, with training, would meet the unique demands of an opera chorus. The Chorus has in its short existence developed into a highly regarded opera chorus and whilst earning income through their chorus activities, they gain valuable stage experience.