She is soaking in some sun at the swanky Four Seasons Hotel as she sips on passion fruit and lemonade when I sneak up behind her.
She extends her hand and immediately shares a story. “I’ve been starring at that thatched hut …” she points to the zoo.
“And while remembering where I come from, the village I grew up in, I saw an elephant walk past. I immediately thought of my grandmother. I sit here now, but it has not always been like this.”
She’s in a stunning floral dress by Dolce&Gabbana, with some trendy sunnies.
She carries on with her story.
“I was born at home in a hut in Driefontein, near Piet Retief, and was brought up by my grandmother.
“I always felt like a princess. As I look at this view I have the image of then and now. I have both girls, the girl who had all the love of her family, who never knew there was something poor about them, she was loved and taken care of and treated like a princess. She believed that one day she would live in a castle. And I also have the girl who dreams of building her own castle.”
Yende, 31, is by far the most popular and successful black soprano South Africa has produced.
She has been living in Milan since 2009 and has performed on some of the biggest stages in opera world – from Paris, to New York to Barcelona.
Her life changed forever when, at 16 in 2001, while watching television at home, she heard the Flower Duet from Delibes’s opera Lakme on a British Airways advert, when the light bulb went off.
She learnt that the haunting music was opera and she immediately abandoned her plans to become an accountant and, instead train to become an opera singer.
Yende got a scholarship to study at the South African College of Music in Cape Town under Professor Virginia Davids, who was the first black woman to appear on opera stages at the height of apartheid. Under Davids’s tutelage Yende’s talent blossomed and zoomed up the opera ladder in no time.
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