Great infusions of talent and energy have come to the classical-music world from increasingly unexpected places – Latvia (Elena Garanca and Andris Nelsons), Quebec (Yannick Nezet-Seguin), Venezuela (Gustavo Dudamel) and now….South Africa, with the personality-plus soprano Pretty Yende. Her Metropolitan Opera appearances in Le Comte Ory and currently The Magic Flute have been extravagantly well-received in some quarters, though anyone looking to experience a star-is-born moment at her New York debut recital at Weill Hall on Monday, which comes only four years since she emerged from the competition circuit, probably realized that turning point happened already.
Besides having a magnetically lush soprano (with mezzo-ish depths one associates with Eleanor Steber), this 30-year-old singer from Piet Retief, Mpumalanga exudes as much genuine warmth as she does boundless artistic confidence – plus a touch of vulnerability that draws you closer to her. With a poised formality one associates with recitalists of previous generations, she sang an enterprising program of Meyerbeer and Bellini arias plus scenes from Spanish zarzuela and Debussy art songs that was clearly out to show the range of what she can do … Her second encore was a traditional song “Thula Mntwana,” that had a combination of exterior elegance and burning inward conviction that one hopes for more of in the future …
In the Liszt Petrarch sonnets, I’m used to hearing the music spiral from climax to repose in the more self-regarding manner of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Yende gave more a sense of what’s really written on the page. As one might expect from someone being coached by the stage savvy soprano Lauren Flanigan, Yende sings with the most control and range of expression when dealing with complicated emotional states. Many recitalists sing to an imaginary antagonist onstage, but Yende does so with such detail that the character she creates through suggestion and implication is almost as strong as her own persona.
Perhaps that’s one reason why bel canto opera may become a particular specialty. She had the notes for the climactic “Ah! non credea mirati” from La sonnambula but also infuses them with extraordinarily clear dramatic motivation. And of course one had to smile in agreement when she sang “They call me exquisite” in her excerpts from the Jeronimo Gimenez version of The Barber of Seville. But if there’s one musical place I would like her to take me, it’s home – her home, to South Africa with all the native magic and mysticism that comes with it.
When the South African soprano Pretty Yende sang Liszt’s tranquil setting of that poem on Monday evening at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the words rang truer than usual.
A gracefulness that can seem decidedly divine seems to radiate from Ms. Yende. Though she is more than capable of tossing off playful comets of notes, and she agreeably sings quick, comic songs, it’s for her calm subtlety that she is most notable. Not every young artist making a New York recital debut is in possession of such serenity.
Now appearing at the Metropolitan Opera as Pamina in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” Ms. Yende was featured in Sunday’s Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall. But the intimate Weill Hall was perhaps best suited to her light yet full voice, with its fast, even quivering vibrato and affecting shimmer …
But Ms. Yende’s emotions, if rarely intense, still feel authentic. In the scene from Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” that precedes the aria “Ah! Non credea mirarti,” she wasn’t dreamy, or despondent, but rather plain-spoken, restrained and gently poignant. Feeling emerged from details: In a rapt version of Donizetti’s song “L’amor funesto,” the final vowel of the first stanza flowed stylishly into the start of the second. A slow dilation of volume on a held note in another of Liszt’s Petrarch settings came a few moments before she turned her tone quietly, movingly vacant for the phrase “morte e vita” (“death and life”) …
Her ornamentation was artful in “Ah! Non giunge uman pensiero” from “La Sonnambula,” and her poise, honesty and melting tone in her first encore, “O mio babbino caro,” made that Puccini chestnut seem fresh and special.
– The New York Times
A young South African soprano Pretty Yende made a New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s intimate Weill Recital Hall with a diverse and ambitious program … The recital began with four non-opera songs by the three giants of bel canto, Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, all of them about love. From the beginning, Ms Yende’s voice was fully warmed up and her passage work was exemplary. Dressed in a rich maroon-colored gown, she displayed a strong command of the Italian language, and her high notes were produced effortlessly. Her coloratura was natural, accurate and delightful. The third selection, Donizetti’s “L’amor funesto (Sad Love)”, was especially affecting as she brought powerful emotion to the song of love and death.
She ended the first half of the program with Meyerbeer’s “O beau pays de la Touraine (O beautiful country of Touraine) from Les Huguenots, which brought her back to a more comfortable operatic territory, and one must admire again her ability to produce dramatic high notes with seeming ease and beauty.
After the intermission, Ms Yende reappeared in a black gown with silverly white shawl-like piece around her shoulder and beautiful jewellery. The three Petrarch Sonnets by Liszt were quite successful, with Ms Yende setting her voice elegantly to the melody while her high notes were now free from any earlier tension. While the program notes state that Liszt experimented with innovative harmonies and pianistic effects in his earlier songs, Ms Yende’s command of Liszt’s music was such that one almost wishes that Liszt had written an opera for a coloratura soprano such as Ms Yende. The ending of the third piece, “Benedetto sia’l giorno” (Blessed be the Day) and the beginning of the next piece, “I’vidi in terra angelica costume” (I beheld on earth angelic grace), were especially notable for her exquisite phrasing.
Ms Yende showed her versatility with the next three selections, zarzuela pieces by Jeronimo Gimenez. Two songs from The Headstrong Girl, with snappy rhythm and play on words, with occasional shout of “Ay!” were executed with great energy and pizzazz. Ms Yende had been somewhat subdued dramatically during the earlier part of the recital, but with the lively Spanish songs a more lively side of her personality came through …
One of the three encore pieces featured a South African celebratory song (sung without piano accompaniment) makes it clear that her heritage and tradition favors clean and straightforward use of beautify high notes, which is what Ms Yende possesses in abundance. She also seems to be a charming and elegant person, willing to experiment and learn. One hopes that she will continue to develop a distinct voice as an artist and thrill the audience with her gift.