Jacques Imbrailo: operatic roots

17 November 2008

South African opera singer Jacques Imbrailo, winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music 2009, has established an international career at the age of 30 that most artists struggle to establish in a lifetime.

Imbrailo, who lives in London with his wife Cara, grew up on a farm in South Africa’s Free State province. He attended the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School, studied law and music under Werner Nel at Potchefstroom University, and opera under Ryland Davies at the Royal College of Music in London.

In September 2006 he joined the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, making his debut as Morales in Bizet’s Carmen in December 2006.

In the 2007/08 season, he played Scythian in Iphigenie en Tauride, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Morales in Carmen, the Flemish deputy in Don Carlos and the Wig Maker in Ariadne auf naxos. He also won the prestigious Audience Prize at the BBC’s Cardiff Singer of the World 2007 event.

In the 2008/09 season he has extended his already impressive repertoire, playing Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro with conductor Emmanuelle Haim, Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte with Opera Colorado and the Glyndebourne Touring Opera, and Schaunard in La Boheme with the Royal Opera House.

Imbrailo says he will be singing in France, Wales, England and the US over the next two years.

Winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award means South Africans will get a chance to hear the internationally sought-after soloist in 2009. Winners receive a cash prize and financial support for their participation on the main programme of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown.

“My parents will be able to come and hear me sing, and it is such a lovely festival to be a part of,” Imbrailo said.

“I think it is good for South African opera to have local singers with international careers,” says Imbrailo. “It inspires young singers and also attracts international directors to take an interest in South Africa.”

Imbrailo says that James Bailieu, Vuyani Mlinde and Pumeza Matshikiza are some of the young South African artists he enjoys working with. “They all have a vibrant energy about what they do and phenomenal natural talent.

“What sets them apart from many other young artists [in Europe] is their willingness to give blood and sweat and leave it on the piano or the stage when they finish. They give of themselves and not just what they need to, which makes seeing them work very thrilling.”

Imbrailo sees his career as an opera singer as an opportunity to live out his faith. “I believe God uses me to do that where I work, and the fact that I am an opera singer is just a way to reach people.”

The annual Standard bank Young Artist Awards were started in 1981 by the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, with Standard Bank coming on board as a sponsor in 1984.

The awards, seen as one of the most prestigious of their kind in the country, honour young South African artists who have not yet gained widespread national exposure or acclaim, but who are making a significant mark in their field.

The awards recognize and actively promote the talent of these young artists, providing them with financial support and a platform for experimentation.

Source: National Arts Festival, Grahamstown