After hitting all the right notes and scaling the heights of opera, SAMA 23 will honour soprano Pretty Yende with the International Achiever Award. The accolade is to recognise her strides on the global scale.
Yende from Piet Retief in Mpumalanga is arguably South Africa’s foremost voice in opera. She graduated from South African College of Music in Cape Town and took part in the prestigious young artist’s programme at La Scala in Italy. What has followed is a remarkable career that saw her grace every stage imaginable throughout Europe and the Americas, and snapping some coveted awards along the way. Yende has also shared the stage with opera icons like Andrea Bocelli and most sough after conductors. Her vocal abilities and repertoire put her in a league of opera greats. She released A Journey, her debut album last year.
She recently had a great marathon run in the US where she had a season at the Metropolitan Opera House in Romeo et Juliette. Yende also made an appearance on the popular The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and the daytime Wendy Williams show. Yende has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg and was the covergirl of the influential Opera magazine and featured in Vogue magazine.
Nhlanhla Sibisi, CEO of RiSA welcomed the news: ‘For a long time we have seen the rise of Pretty Yende on international stages. She represent the voice of an ambitious go-getting generation. We salute her achievements and she is a worthy winner this year. Bravo.’
Born in 1985 in the small remote town of Piet Retief, about three hundred miles from Johannesburg, South African soprano Pretty Yende was initially introduced to singing in a manner familiar to many South Africans – in her church choir.
At the age of sixteen, she heard the Flower Duet from Lakmé on a British Airways television advert, and was so enraptured by its beauty that she became determined to find out more about it. On learning that it was opera, she decided at that moment to abandon her plans to become an accountant, and to train to become an opera singer instead.
Soon she gained a scholarship to study at the South African College of Music in Cape Town with Professor Virginia Davids, the first black woman to appear on opera stages during the apartheid years in South Africa. With Davids’s help, Yende’s extraordinary talent blossomed, and she triumphed in both the International Hans Gabor Belvedere (2009) and Operalia Competitions (2011). In both, she gained first prizes in every category and was the first artist in history to do so. Her successes also led to an offer to join the prestigious young artists’ programme at La Scala in Milan (2009–2011), where she made her stage debut in 2010. In the same year she further won first prizes at the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition and Concours International de Belcanto Vincenzo Bellini.
The Washington Post
Pretty Yende has appeared at all of the major opera houses of the world, and has been widely lauded in the press. ‘Possessed of diamanté tone and a megawatt smile… a soprano of real musical intelligence,’ said The Telegraph after her debut recital in London. When, in 2013, she stepped in at a month’s notice to sing in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory opposite Juan Diego Flórez (replacing Nino Machaidze) at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, she gained rapturous acclaim. ‘Her voice has a luminous sheen combined with steely resolve … she delivered some of the most difficult coloratura passages with scintillating precision,’ said The New York Times after this sensational Metropolitan Opera debut. Later that year she also replaced an indisposed Cecilia Bartoli at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in the same opera. ‘A sensational Vienna debut,’ said Bachtrack.com.
Yende has already appeared at major opera houses in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Hamburg and Paris, and has frequently sung at her ‘home theatre’ of La Scala. Her roles include Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor), Juliette (Roméo et Juliette), Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Adina (L’elisir d’amore) and Elvira (I puritani). Forthcoming seasons will also see her appear at the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, the Royal Opera House in London, the Opéra National de Paris and the Metropolitan Opera. In 2013 she sang Lucia in Cape Town.