Pretty Yende, a 27 year old soprano from South Africa, who has been causing stirs in operatic circles from Europe to Australia, landed on the grandest stage of her life, at the epicenter of opera aficionados: she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City this week. She achieved many milestones on her ascent to the Metropolitan, including winning an annual opera performers’ competition to identify the best new talent organized by the great Spanish tenor, Placido Domingo.
Pretty hails from Mpumalanga, an eastern province in South Africa that borders Swaziland and Mozambique. Though musically inclined, ten years ago she had never heard of opera. Then one day, she and her family were at home together watching television when a British Airways advertisement came on featuring ten seconds of opera music. She became intrigued with this form of expression, and asked her high school teacher about it the next day at school, asking if this was a sound that a human voice could create, “because it almost sounded supernatural,” she said in an interview. At that moment, she decided that this was an artistic form she wished to pursue.
She left her home town and went to Cape Town where she enrolled in the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, and earned a Performer’s Diploma, cum laude. She went on to complete post graduate studies in Opera, also at the University of Cape Town, and later graduated from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, in Milan, Italy. The Accademia Teatro is part of the renowned La Scala opera house, inaugurated in 1778, and was the training ground for most of Italy’s, and the world’s, greatest operatic artists.
The South African singer received great reviews from most critics for her Metropolitan Opera debut. She performed the lead role of Countess Adele in a production of Rossini’s Compte Ory. She had an unfortunate fall on stage, which was widely reported, but she recovered well, and even the critic from the New York Times said of her performance, “(she) delivered some of the most difficult coloratura passages with scintillating precision, evidently at ease in this repertory.”