Finding the Music of Aesop’s Fables

Get to know how the vibrant and sunny Aesop’s Fables was created from Isango Ensemble Director Mark Dornford-May!

Mark Dornford May
Mark Dornford-May

What first inspired you to turn Aesop’s Fables into an opera?

The idea originally came from Peter Terson. He had written a wonderful play, which we used as the basis for our adaptation.

What was the trickiest thing about adapting the material? The easiest?

The trickiest aspect was finding a narrative to link each individual fable into a coherent story. Using Aesop’s journey from slave to free man was a stroke of genius from Peter. The easiest, funnily enough, was the music! Mandisi Dyantyis, one of our Co-Music Directors, managed to find a sound for each animal, quite quickly. Out of that came some amazing tunes!

Do you have a favorite fable?

My favorite is probably “The Hare & the Tortoise” because my personality is quite hare-like. I always want to rush into things! Remembering this fable sometimes helps me to slow down a bit and consider things first.

What do you hope kids and adults feel when they see Aesop’s Fables?

A sense of wonder at the simple truth of these fables that have lasted over two thousand years. They still teach us today! Hopefully, people will also enjoy the fun and the humor of our storytelling.

Do you have a favorite audience reaction?

I will always love the enjoyment people seem to get from the stories we tell, whether they’re Mozart operas or plays dealing with complex issues of xenophobia and racism.

What first made you fall in love with opera?

I saw Carmen at the age of five and fell in love with the art form. I was privileged enough to direct it many years later with Paulina Malefane playing the title role.

Why is opera a great art form for kids?

The wonderful thing about opera is that it combines all of the performing arts into one thing—singing, music, dance and acting are all there in one glorious unit. Music carries an emotional connection beyond mere words, so to me, opera is the most accessible art form of all!