• Ryan Schumann
Press & Media Coordinator, Zemsky Green Artists, New York
212 579 6700.
Since debuting on the stage of the venerable La Scala in Milan at the age of 25, South African soprano Pretty Yende has captured the interest and applause of many opera lovers around the world. She followed her Milan triumph with debuts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Wigmore Hall in London earlier this year.
“I only learned about opera in 2001,” admits Yende, who was born on 6 March 1985. “I was at home with my family in Piet Retief, in Mpumalanga, watching TV, when an advertisement for British Airways came on with the most inspiring music I had ever heard. It was Delibes’ Flower Duet but I didn’t know what that was; I was just so intrigued by the sheer beauty of sound and the melody. The feeling I got was magical, and within those 10 seconds of listening, I knew I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I just didn’t know it was called opera.”
The journey since that day in her home township of eThandukukhanya, outside Piet Retief has been like a fairytale, she adds.
After graduating cum laude from the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, the young singer was the first black South African to be invited to the prestigious Accademia Teatro alla Scala, the La Scala school, in Italy, and the first black South African to make her debut in a leading role at La Scala Opera House. A trail of awards followed, but Yende really caught international attention in 2009, when she was the first artist in the history of the Hans Gabor Belvedere International Singing Competition in Vienna, Austria to come first in every category. The competition, which has been running for three decades, invites the best up-and-coming international singing talent from around the globe to Vienna to compete.
In July 2009, Yende won the opera and operetta categories, and was selected as the international media and public’s favourite performer. There were more than 3 000 candidates that year. Two years later, in July 2011, she was the overall winner of the International Operalia singing competition, which was founded by Spanish maestro Plácido Domingo to find and honour the best new voices in opera. Yende was one of 10 soloists chosen from a group of 40 to take part in the final round of the competition in Moscow. She also won the Zarzuela, as well as the Audience Choice Award.
Order of Ikhamanga in Silver
Most recently, on 27 April 2013, the soprano received one of South Africa’s highest honours, the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, from President Jacob Zuma. The award was given in recognition of Yende’s remarkable achievements as an opera singer, musician and ambassador for the country. The chairperson of the National Orders Advisory Council, Cassius Lubisi, said Yende was conferred the honour “for her excellent achievement and international acclaim in the field of world opera and serving as a role model to aspiring young musicians”.
“I am inspired by anyone who is not afraid to dream bigger,” says the once small town girl from Mpumalanga. “The fact that I am privileged enough to wear incredible gowns, do what I love and be recognised with standing ovations, doesn’t mean that I am better than the guy who wakes up at 4am to deliver bread, or the girl who wakes at the break of dawn to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the market to sell on the street corner.”
She believes South Africa is a singing nation and its people love opera. “I believe there’s a lot of talent in my country. Our people beam with joy and we see it all the time in the arts, both performing and otherwise.” She believes that the new generation will be the new face of opera.
Yet she reminds those who aim to follow in her professional footsteps that a dream cannot be realised unless it goes hand-in-hand with responsibility and a hard-working, never-give-up attitude. Her determination is tangible and her talent undeniable – it’s really only the beginning for the singer. On her diary in the next while is her first stage appearance as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin, singing Norina in Don Pasquale in her first appearance at Gran Teatro Liceu in Barcelona, and Micaela in Carmen in her first appearance at the Washington National Opera.
She will also appear for the first time with the Netherlands Opera and will return to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 2014, she will perform for the first time in Los Angeles, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, and at the Opera Bastille in Paris. She has also been invited to sing in a new production at the Zurich Opera in 2016.
Yende will also perform in South Africa twice: on 14 November at the Teatro at Montecasino, in Johannesburg, and on 16 November at Artscape Opera House in Cape Town.