PROACTIVE IN THE complex task of making the field of opera possible and attractive as a profession for coloured South Africans, tenor and professor of singing Sidwill Hartman once told the media that his most coveted role was that of the gutsy Pollione in Bellini’s Norma. The tradition-contravening and bloodthirsty nature of this character flies in the face of Hartman, who was by all accounts, a private and modest man of great empathy and strong Christian beliefs. He died on May 9, 2019, after suffering a heart attack whilst teaching. He was 62.
He graduated in opera from the University of Cape Town in 1980 and was snapped up by the prestigious New York based Juilliard School, where he had the opportunity to study under African-America bass Simon Estes and tenor Enrico di Giuseppe. Coming from a childhood that began in the coloured area known as District Six and progressed to Manenberg, Hartman found a tremendous sense of independence in America.
Born in 1956, as a very young person Hartman nursed dreams to become a Christian missionary, but his love for opera took him on paths he could not have anticipated. At the age of 17, he joined the Eoan Group, which was founded by Helen Southern-Holt in the 1930s. This Cape Town-based group was designed to encourage young coloured singers.
Twelve years after he graduated, in 1992, he launched his international performing career, in France. Two years after a striking performance as Radamés in Verdi’s Aida, at the South African State Theatre, in Pretoria in 2002, Hartman switched from professional tenor, associated with the performing arts council, Capab, to an associate professor of singing at the South African College of Music, attached to UCT.
Respected as an easy collaborator and an exceptionally fine teacher, Hartman considered Mozart opera to be “medicine for the voice”, but he preferred gutsy roles in the bel canto tradition. He leaves his partner, Martin, sisters, Astrid and Jennifer, hundreds of music graduates and students whose talent he had nurtured and thousands of fans. A memorial serve was hosted for Hartman on May 25 at the Baxter Concert Hall in Cape Town.