Romeo’s Passion is a chamber opera and a coming out story. Composer Cathy Milliken and librettist Robert Lehmeier embarked upon the project in 2015, holding a series of creative workshops together with adult and youth choirs in South Africa’s North West and Gauteng provinces over a period of two years.

“Romeo’s Passion” is a one-hour chamber opera for five singers, oboe, violin, and piano. It tells the story of a young man who is engaged to be married to a young woman; but he loves a man. He and the man he loves must find the courage to face their own truths. The process is confronting for all concerned.

Though equal rights for all sexual orientations are enshrined in the South African constitution, many communities are violently opposed to homosexuality, and those who do come out can face violence, perhaps even murder.

Our production specifically targeted high school students - those currently coming to terms with their own sexuality and that of their peers, those who could one day become victims or perpetrators. By providing interactive creative workshops and on-stage follow-up sessions for all audience members, Umculo ensured a process of engagement and reflection for all involved.

At each performance, there was a palpable sense of our audience joining us on a journey from discomfort and skepticism to understanding and empathy. A study conducted by the University of Bayreuth’s Dr Lena van Hoven showed the depth of the work’s social impact. There is wide interest from many South African organisations in touring the production - if funds can be found.

“Romeo’s Passion” takes an ordinary, middle-class family and gradually peels away layers to reveal the dilemmas of the protagonists. Lehmeier’s direct, colloquial yet poetic text and Milliken’s expressive, genre-defying score create drama and tension, longing and fear, a juxtaposition of danger with the luminous power of love. Is love alone enough? The performance leaves us with a sense of profound uncertainty.