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FLORENCE KASUMBA - The AIDA Star

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The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi created in 1870, AIDA, an opera in four acts, after accepting a request from the Egyptian Viceroy, Ismail Pascià. The opera was intended to be performed during the grandiose inauguration ceremony of the Suez Canal. The core story of the opera is about the love between a Nubian slave (Aida) and the Egyptian commandant (Radames), who was engaged to Pharaoh's daughter (Amneris). The Opera premiered in 1871, at the Opera Theater in Cairo. Since then, various versions have been created and performed by different artists. The current interpretation as a musical by Disney's authors including Sir Tim Rice, the prolific lyricist and the musician/composer, Sir Elton John was successful in the USA. The German translation of this musical premiered on the 5th October 2003 at the Colosseum Theater in Essen, Germany with Florence Kasumba, an African from Uganda in the lead role AIDA. Her performance has been brilliant and applauded by the media.

Afritopic met the African star, Florence Kasumba, at the Colosseum for an interview. Speaking melodically with the voice of a diva, she gives an insight to her background and the musical theater.

 

Afritopic: You came to Germany as a child. Could you recollect how it was growing up in Germany?

Florence: I was 2 years old when I came to Germany. I was born in Uganda but my parents have been living in Germany for some years. My mother studied in Germany. To be honest, I cannot really recollect how it was in the beginning. I was just a little girl growing up in Essen, Germany. I started the kindergarten like other children, went through the primary school and later entered the Grammar school (Gynasium), which I successfully completed in 1996 with the diploma (Abitur).

Afritopic: Some of the popular stars of today knew what they wanted to be at a very early age. Did you know what you wanted to be very early?

Florence: I started dancing at the age of 12. But it was more of a hobby. With time, my interest grew stronger and realized that it is what I really love doing. I was getting more involved and started informing myself of career possibilities. I finally made up my mind at the age of 17/18 to make my living out of the musical theater.

Afritopic: What role did your parents play?

Florence: They played the role of normal parents by giving me all the necessary support to achieve my goal. While at school, I was working part-time to earn pocket money, but my parents financed all the training I needed for a career in the musical theater.

Afritopic: Where did you have your formal training to prepare you for a musical theater career?

Florence: I attended one of the very good musical theater schools in Holland/Netherlands for 4 years. Though, it is not a private school, the admission standards are high and the instructors/lecturers are very good. I had training in singing, dancing and diverse techniques required for good stage performance. During my time at the school, I was lucky to have 2 instructors who were active in the musical theaters business. I was able to learn a lot from them and obtain practical tips for the musical theater profession.

Afritopic: Were there other African students in the school?

Florence: There was no other African student while I was there. I was the only African. Most students were Dutch. There were also students from the Antilles and other former Netherlands' islands. However, the atmosphere was international and conducive to learning.

Afritopic: How difficult or challenging was it to meet all the requirements necessary to make the grade?

Florence: I wanted to be a musical performer. So, I decided to learn everything that could help me in my profession. I spent a lot of time practicing to improve my dancing techniques and voice control. I worked together with instructors who were former students of the school and well experienced in the musical theater sector. Due to the fact that all students were working hard to make the grade, the situation was competitive and challenging. I had my goal in mind and was highly motivated to achieve it.

Afritopic: Making a career in the musical theater is not easy. Would you say that the training at the musical school has contributed a lot to your success?

Florence: The school provided some of the best instructors available. Students could attend classes, learn and practice. Most of the people who graduated from the school are now working in the musical theater or related fields. But it is not always true that a graduate from a musical school is a better performer than somebody who never attended a 4-year graduate school. While preparing for AIDA, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from acclaimed instructors. I learned so much about acting and speaking from them within 3 months than I learnt during my 4 years in the musical theater school.  continue>

 
Florence Kasumba
 

Afritopic: How did you start building your career in the musical theater?

Florence: When I was in the third year at the musical theater school, I did a casting for a film. I did not have any intention of doing movies, but an agency in Holland called me and persuaded me to go for the casting. I did an audition for the film and was accepted for a role, which took 10 shooting days. In all, the shooting and rehearsals for the film lasted 3 months. In this way, I would say that my professional career began with playing a part in a movie. After that, I started applying to participate in castings for musical theaters like other students. I took part in several castings for dancing/singing. In each case, the verdict of the jury was either I was good or not good enough. Eventually, I was lucky to secure my first job in the musical theater.

 
 

Afritopic: You studied in Holland. There is a general notion that in order to be a top musical performer, you have to undergo some training in the USA. Are you of this opinion?

Florence: I do not know where this notion comes from. I do not believe that you need extra training in the USA in order to become a top musical performer; otherwise I would not be here. Yes, musical theater is so much older in the USA that I am inclined to saying that the art originates from there. There are very good schools, international renowned instructors as well as very talented students in the USA. Some of these students are so good that their performances could be intimidating for others. But highly talented students could also be found in Europe or anywhere else. I believe that how good a musical performer is, depends on his/her passion for the profession, the capabilities of his/her instructor/teacher and his/her own personal efforts. In the musical school in Holland, I had an American teacher as well as an English from whom I learned a lot. Certainly, I have heard some colleagues saying, 'Let's go to Los Angeles to train' or 'Let's go to New York to train'. This is probably due to the large number of people in these cities who are dancers. I never had the desire to live there. I am of the opinion that good schools and excellent teachers could be found even in Germany.  

Afritopic: How did you apply for AIDA and prepare for the audition?

Florence: I applied for AIDA in the same way I applied for other jobs in the musical theater. I did not think of it or take it as a big issue. I did not go deep into the historical background. My main aim was to get the job. Whenever I apply for a job in a musical, I generally inform myself, listen to the music of the musical and do some dancing, acting as well as voice training.  In the case of AIDA, I bought the CD about a year prior to my application. I later took the opportunity to see the show while visiting a friend in New York. The next thing I did was to make sure that I was technically in form to take on the job. So, I took voice, acting and dancing lessons. This is very important because at auditions, the qualities the juries judge are the vocal, dancing and acting capabilities of the applicant. Naturally, how the applicant looks like is also taken into consideration. I might have had all the background information about the musical. But without the mentioned capabilities, I would have had no chance at all.

Afritopic: After the auditions, you were one of the two girls selected as AIDA aspirants. Did you undergo extra training in order to beat the competition and get the role?

Florence: I practiced technically. I would not call it extra training. I knew I had to be in very good shape and be able to sing, act and dance daily on stage as AIDA. For me, when I think of AIDA, I see her acting and singing. I presume that this is also what the audience is expecting. That is why I trained hard to be vocally good enough to maintain a constant good performance. Though, I had a general knowledge of what the story is about, I did not spend time with the historical issues. The interpretation of the musical might have changed over the years, but the story itself has not. 

Afritopic: The story of AIDA is set in Africa. As an African, do you feel emotional when playing the role of 'AIDA'?

Florence: I have not been to Africa since I left as a child. I play the lead role of AIDA with all the feelings the character demands. I am emotional when AIDA is emotional and not because I am an African. It's acting. Though the story took place in Africa (Egypt/Nubia), it could have taken place anywhere in the world. Generally speaking, the story is about slavery, intercultural love, power struggle and young leaders fighting for freedom. Professionally, it is important for me to feel what is going on in the story and hopefully perform in a way that AIDA's feelings get across to the audience. 

Afritopic: What advice would you give anyone who would like to make a career in the musical theater?

Florence:  If you want to achieve your goal, you should find people who could help you Make contacts and find help from those who could help like very good teachers and people experienced in the field. It is not always easy. If I would have to start all over again, I would do exactly what I did before. I would inform myself about the profession. I would check the Internet for schools offering courses/training to acquire the necessary skills and look for chances to meet people active in the professional field. As an example is the way you (from Afritopic) did it. You contacted someone you know who contacted somebody who knows me. I passed on the information on how I could be contacted. And now, we are here having this interview. It is also good to know that there are different sections within the musical theater that offer career opportunities. There are people responsible for the organization, choreography, costume/dresses, design and so on. You have to be ready to work hard to achieve your goal. The employment environment within the musical theater is highly competitive. You have to be very, very good because there are a large number of very good people in the business. I am lucky to meet people who believed in me and helped me to be where I am today.  continue>

 
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Afritopic: Playing the lead role demands a lot of energy and concentration, which is not so easy. How do you keep yourself in shape?

Florence: My source of energy is my family. I spend as much time as possible with them. I eat balanced healthy diets including abundant vegetables and fruits. I sleep a lot because sleeping is the best form of rest I can get. I believe that taking care of my health now would help me when I get older. If I start loosing my teeth later at the age of 40, then I know that I have done something terribly wrong while I was young. I neither drink much alcohol nor go out every night. It is not that I do not like going out, but it would be too tiring for me. I have to perform every evening, so I try to keep myself in form by working out regularly during the day.

Afritopic: Now that you have the status of a star, has your circle of friends changed?

Florence: My circle of friends change not because of my star role. I meet people and make friends wherever I live. I have my circle of friends in Essen where I grew up and went to school. I later went to the Netherlands where I also met different people and made friends. The issue of friendship depends on the individual. You choose your own friends. However, whether your friends stay with you or not depends on the situation or the type of friendship. I travel frequently, which makes it difficult to see my friends often. However, we are living in a modern world. I can e-mail my friends or phone them whenever I need them. For the past few years, I have been performing on stage in musical theaters. Therefore, my friends change because I get to know and work with people in the in the business. Yes, it is true that if you have a big role like AIDA, you start hearing from people you have not heard from for a long time or from people you don't even know. This is normal because people want to be part of the success and I am really careful about that.

 

Afritopic: You are becoming very popular through your lead role in AIDA. In which way do you think you could help Uganda/Africa using your popularity?

Florence: Are you sure that I am popular? You must have better information about me than myself. I think it is a bit exaggerated to say that I am popular. Some people know me because they saw AIDA or my performance in other shows. Of course people tend to listen to people they know either personally, through the media or shows like AIDA. The chances are high that a larger number of people would listen and react to what I say in the public compared to, for example, what my mother says in the public. The first question is 'Do You really want to help?' followed by the second question, 'What could you do to help?' There are many ways in which one could help. Yes, I come from Uganda. But this does not mean that I start helping everybody from Uganda. I am of the opinion that help could be offered anywhere. You could help the next person near you who is homeless. I think of helping in the general sense of helping. It does not matter where I am offering to help as long as my help is needed. If I decide to help, I want to really help. I do not believe in sending some money to a bank account in order to help. I want to be involved in the issue and know what the help is all about.

Afritopic: How would you compare living here in Germany to some other countries you have lived in?

Florence: I grew up in Essen, lived in Austria for a year and in Holland for 4 years. I prefer living in Germany than in Austria. I know the mentality in Germany and have my friends here. I loved living and working in Holland because it was where I saw for the first time a lot of people of my complexion and I felt at ease. However, there are more people of African descent now in Essen than some years ago, giving the city a multicultural touch.

Afritopic: You have the figure of a model. Have you done modeling or could modeling be a career option?

Florence: Yes, I have done modeling. I even earned money as a model while at school. Until recently, I did different things in the modeling sector including hair, fashion and dancing shows. I like to do fashion modeling/catwalk whenever I have the time, but it is not a career option for me. There are some colleagues who combine different jobs like modeling and theater. That is not for me. It's too much stress; going to the venues, getting the make-up done, wearing/changing the attires and doing the catwalk. My main focus at the moment is the musical theater.

continue>
 
Aida and Radames
 
 
 
Photo Albums 
Florence photos 
AIDA scenes
Premiere-Guests
 

Afritopic: When I came in here, I felt a friendly atmosphere. Is the working atmosphere always friendly or do you sometimes have bad times?

Florence: Did you really feel a friendly atmosphere when you came in? It's nice to hear that. Yes indeed, the people are very friendly. There are so many people doing different things. At the end of the day, we are all doing one show. I am the lead of the show but I do not want to be reminded about that. I like chatting with my colleagues and the people who dress me up for the show. We discuss, exchange views and have fun together. 

Whenever I go to the kitchen to have my food, I always say 'hello' to everyone and take the time to converse with the people around. It is just nice here. Sometimes, things do not go the way you want them to go. This is normal. We are all human beings. Each of us including myself has his/her bad moods. Rationally, the bad moods should be left outside the working environment. This is not always the case. It is acidulous for the working environment, if you walk into the room with a grimy face and your colleagues would rather avoid talking to you. I think that the best thing one could do is to talk about the problem on mind. We have formed ourselves into a very good team and have created a nice working atmosphere.
 

Afritopic: Having the lead role in AIDA is a big achievement in your career. Do you see yourself still in the musical theater some 10 years from now?

Florence: Privately, I hope to have had a family of my own with 2 children.

Career wise, I really do not know. I love the musical theater and would like to continue performing as long as possible. But I do not want to get old with it. I don't want to be performing on stage out of necessity at the age of 60. If I were still in form at that age and love to perform on stage, then I would do it. However, I would like to learn something else. Going into the movie business as an actress would not be totally new because I have learnt acting. I know how to sing and dance. There are different options for me available in the musical theater and probably in the television and film sector. I am open for everything. Nevertheless, I cannot plan the future. For example, I never knew that I was going to do AIDA. Now, I am here playing the lead role and I cannot even tell for how long the show would continue. Let us wait and see what the future would bring.

 
 

Afritopic: Thank you for the interview. Afritopic wishes you more success in your career.

Florence: You are welcome. Thanks.

 
AIDA History
In November, 1869, the Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pascià, asked Verdi to compose a hymn for the inauguration of the Suez Canal. At first Verdi refused, saying he was not used to composing circumstantial music, but he began to think about a new opera. The Viceroy invited the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette to Paris and introduced him to Camille Du Locle, through whom he hoped to secure the collaboration of either Verdi, Wagner or Gounod, for the composition of the hymn. With an idea for a comic opera for Du Locle's theatre, Verdi had no intention of accepting Pascià's proposal, but when Du Locle himself showed him the outline for an opera Mariette had furnished, Verdi was enthusiastic. June 2nd, 1870 he finally accepted to compose the music for Aida; the opera premiered at the Opera Theatre in Cairo on the evening of December 24th, 1871, directed by Giovanni Bottesini, with soprano Antonietta Pozzoni Anastasi, tenor Pietro Mongini, mezzosoprano Eleonora Grossi and baritone Francesco Steller. Verdi was not present at the premiere, but was awarded the prestigious title of Knight of the Ottoman Empire. A year later the Italian premiere took place at the Scala Theatre in Milan the evening of February 8th, 1872, directed by Franco Faccio.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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