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Pretty Yende’s opera journey: ‘Music is a gift to humanity’

The award-winning South African soprano reflects on her musical journey, from church hymns with her grandmother to the world’s top opera houses.

By Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager)

9 June 2017 at 6.13pm | 4 Comments

Pretty Yende’s star is in the ascent. After training at La Scala, Milan, she made her debut with Metropolitan Opera, New York, aged 27, stepping in at less than a month’s notice to sing in Le Comte Ory opposite Juan Diego Flórez. That was back in 2013, and since then she’s sung for opera houses around the world, making her Royal Opera debut in summer 2017 in L’elisir d’amore. A few weeks earlier her debut solo album A Journey won the International Opera Award for Solo Recital Recording.

Yende’s discovery of opera is well-documented: aged 16, she heard Delibes’ Flower Duet from Lakmé on a British Airways television advert, and was immediately captivated. But of course her musical life predates that exposure, as she explains in an interview at the Royal Opera House:

‘Music for me was really planted way, way back. I remember days with my grandmother when she would teach me songs – you know, church hymns – and that’s where I started to sing. At home there was always music in the house, so the ear was accustomed to hearing sounds and melodies. And then of course to be introduced to opera in 2001 was a revelation.’

Once bitten by the opera bug, Yende abandoned her previous career plans – to become an accountant – to see if opera was something she could devote her life to. Studies at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town, and then at La Scala’s Academy revealed Yende’s extraordinarily agile and lustrous voice, well suited to the vocal fireworks of bel canto.

Yende’s voice so far has led her to a range of different characters, from the resourceful determination of Rosina in The Barber of Seville to the tragedy of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. Yende has found that each role has affected her offstage personality:

‘That’s the beauty of opera – to be able to play all these characters and realizing that they are human beings, and to be able to share those human emotions with who you are personally off stage. It’s quite exciting, how not so far opera is. It’s very, very human.’

So it should come as no surprise that Yende is sceptical about those ever-present claims that opera as an art form is on its way out. ‘This music is so universal – it caters for all colours and all genders and all different walks of life. As much as we say it’s dying, it can’t die if we keep on encouraging it and enjoying it. Maybe we should stop saying opera is dying – and say it’s alive’.

Pretty Yende’s solo album A Journey is available on CD, download and stream.

L’elisir d’amore runs until 22 June 2017. Tickets are still available.

The production is a co-production with Opéra National de Paris.

By Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager)

9 June 2017 at 6.13pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Laurent Pelly, interview, L'Elisir d'amore, Pretty Yende, Production, Soundcloud

This article has 4 comments

  1. Jovana responded on 11 June 2017 at 10:56am Reply

    Such an amazing and beautiful person and what an opulent voice!
    She needs to know that she has fans in Serbia. :)

  2. Teresa Lluch Rodríguez responded on 12 June 2017 at 3:33pm Reply

    Maravillosa ópera la de ayer en el Royal Ópera House de Londres y maravillosa voz la de Pretty Yende: Emocionada estoy desde ayer, mil gracias y enhorabuena por lo bonito del escenario y decoración, la gran orquesta. Muchas gracias por una gran noche. Thank you very very much. I love London

  3. Careena Bernstein responded on 13 June 2017 at 8:05am Reply

    Pretty is my favorite Diva and apart from her enormous talent she is a very special human being wise beyond her years and humble and grateful amidst all the praise and accolades worldwide.She followed her dream and worked relentlessly to achieve all this at such a young blessed and privileged to have followed her magnificent career from the start and to call her my friend.May G-g blesss you always my very special Pretty

  4. mike frank responded on 22 June 2017 at 2:56am Reply

    does it matter if a soprano is "a very special human being" [whatever in the world that might mean] or if she is a "beautiful person"? . . . and do we really need to suffer palaver about conversations with grandma? . . . in talking about singers shouldn't we focus on the quality of the singing and the quality of the voice, on the artistry rather than the personality . . . perhaps if we cared more about how a singer negotiates the register break or achieves a high pianissimo, and less about how he -- or she -- treats her siblings we might just get more great singers in our opera houses

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