The Okavango Macbeth

The Macbeth story as played out in a troop of baboons in Botswana? This fanciful idea inspired the writer Alexander McCall Smith and the composer Tom Cunningham to come up with their first opera, The Okavango Macbeth.

Set in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, the opera deals with the efforts of an ambitious female baboon, Lady Macbeth, to encourage her husband, Macbeth, to murder the dominant baboon, Duncan. The opera was premiered in the No 1 Ladies' Opera House, a tiny opera house in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, in a production mounted by the celebrated Cape Town director and producer, Nicholas Ellenbogen. The reception it received was ecstatic, and a charity performance of the opera was subsequently given in Edinburgh. The response again was extremely enthusiastic, leading many to conclude that in this extraordinary and unusual tale a new operatic gem has emerged.

As McCall Smith writes: 'There are two odd things about baboons, firstly that they're matrilineal, but even more peculiarly that they're the only animal we know about in which status is conferred from one generation to the next. In our terms, it's as if the baboon queen's offspring are regarded as princes just by virtue of who their mother is. And this struck me as being so unusual that I thought I'd write an opera about it.'