Photo: Pretty Yende as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia ( Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera )
Chances are, you know the overture to The Barber of Seville (maybe from Bugs Bunny?!) but Gioachino Rossini’s most famous opera is more than a comedic romp. Embedded in the topsy-turvy tale of young love and silly disguises, there is a story of forced marriage and a woman’s determination to live a life of her choosing.
We meet the heroine Rosina for the first time in the aria “Una voce poco fa,” in which she declares that while she may seem sweet and innocent, she is really not someone to be messed with. Host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests explore the courage it takes to live life on your own terms and the way this almost absurd story pulled from a centuries-old novel still resonates today. You’ll hear how one guest has her own escape-from-a-forced-marriage story that uncannily matches Rosina’s.
Soprano Pretty Yende first sang the role of Rosina in Norway in 2014, and it’s since become one of her favorite roles. She loves playing Rosina because the character is fun, witty, and unlike so many operatic heroines, she gets to hit all the high notes and live happily ever after.
Conductor James Conlon is Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera. He first heard The Barber of Seville when he was 11 years old and fell in love on the spot. Later that summer, he made his debut as director, producer, and Count Almaviva in his friend’s garage, with a very appreciative audience lined up in the driveway.
Activist Jasvinder Sanghera is a survivor of forced marriage. She has spent the last four decades advocating for women, children, and men silenced by domestic abuse and forced marriages, and founded the award-winning charity Karma Nirvana in 1993.
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Dans le numéro 596, retrouvez une longue interview de la diva sud-africaine Pretty Yende. Elle revient pour Amina sur ses premiers pas sur les scènes des plus grands opéras du monde et cela en moins de 10 ans.
South African soprano Pretty Yende always loved to sing but it took a TV commercial to introduce her to a genre she later knew as opera. Since that discovery, Yende has emerged as one of few black opera singers to have performed leading roles at the Paris Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Royal Opera House in London as well as the La Scala in Milan, Italy.
Her magnetic charm, acclaimed operatic and solo performances and critically lauded discography has earned her numerous awards and led to her emergence as one of the brightest stars of the classical music world.
Yende born on March 6, 1985 in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga is a product of the South African College of Music, where she graduated. She also graduated from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy.
The operatic soprano won first prize in operetta and opera at the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition 2009 in Vienna and in 2010 also won the first prize at the Vincenzo Bellini International Competition as well as the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition.
In 2011, she won first prize at Operalia, The World Opera Competition held that year in Moscow.
In 2012, she sang the role of Musetta in Puccini’s opera La bohème at La Scala in Milan. Yende made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York City on January 17, 2013, in the role of Adèle in Rossini’s opera Le comte Ory as a substitute for Nino Machaidze.
In 2015, she portrayed Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Los Angeles Opera. In 2016 she portrayed Rosina in The Barber of Seville and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Paris Opera.
Yende is credited for her vocals in Andrea Bocelli’s Concerto: One Night in Central Park (2011), and as a primary artist for the “Ode À L’Humanité” (Ode to Humanity, previously called Aria) track on the Yanni/Plácido Domingo collaboration Inspirato (2014).
In September 2013, she received an Mbokodo Award in the category of opera. It’s given in South Africa to recognize women who have shown leadership, fostered growth and made efforts to strengthen the arts.
In 2018, she debuted as Adina in Bartlett Sher’s production of L’elisir d’amore opposite Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino at the Metropolitan Opera, which ran through January and February.
award is reserved for South African citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism or sport.
Yende also won a Readers’ Award in the 2018 International Opera Awards.
Since making her professional operatic debut at the Latvian National Theatre in Riga as Micaela in Carmen, Yende has presented concerts in Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Johannesburg, South Africa, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.
In 2016, she released her debut album “A Journey” for Sony Classical. She also has a second solo album titled “Dreams.”
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La soprano sud-africaine Pretty Yende est l’une des rares chanteuses d’opéra noire à avoir joué à l’Opéra de Paris, au Metropolitan Opera de New York et au Royal Opera House de Londres. Elle a découvert cet art en regardant une publicité à la télévision. “J’ai été touchée par quelque chose de plus grand que moi, et je ne m’y attendais pas“, raconte-t-elle.
De l’importance de la musique
Pretty Yende naît en 1985. Durant son enfance, la musique est très présente dans sa vie. “Chaque soir, après le dîner à la maison, il y avait de la musique“, se souvient-elle.
Mes parents ne pensaient pas qu’il était important pour moi, à cet âge-là, d’apprendre ce qu’est la haine et la différence.
La soprano grandit dans un township mais ses parents choisissent de ne pas lui parler de l’apartheid. “Ils m’ont appris à porter un regard bienveillant sur le monde ou sur toute personne qui ne serait pas comme moi, et aussi de savoir que je peux tout rêver et tout faire“, salue Pretty Yende.
En 2010, elle intègre la formation de l’Académie de la Scala de Milan. Dans les premiers moments de sa carrière, Pretty Yende a souvent peur de ne pas répondre aux attentes de son public. Puis, très vite, la soprano va gagner en confiance et être une véritable source d’inspiration pour les autres. “Je n’avais aucune idée que poursuivre mes rêves encouragerait d’autres à se regarder aussi, et à se dire : “Ah, si elle peut le faire, je peux le faire aussi, même si ce n’est pas de l’opéra.”“
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Pretty Yende is one of today’s most sought-after sopranos, best known for her charisma and vocal fireworks. She is exciting to watch and has proven herself to be a performer capable of exposing new insights into each character she inhabits.
Throughout the past years, the soprano has sung some of the most challenging coloratura roles in the repertory, while putting a stamp on comic gems. But as she continues to expand her repertoire, Yende has slowly started to showcase her ability to move into more lyric repertory, which will be evident this week as the South African soprano returns to the Opera de Paris for her role debut as “Manon.”
Yende will sing her first Massenet opera, which is also her her fifth major French role following Leila, Micaëla, Teresa, and Juliette. “Manon” will be her second French role in Paris and also the second new production Yende headlines this season with the company following her role debut as Violetta in “La Traviata.”
Of her French singing, OperaWire has praised Yende stating she has a “crystalline hue in her voice” and “jewel-like timbre.” An inspiring actress with a voice that continues to grow, Yende is sure to make an impression in her first Manon.
For those not in Paris, the opera is set to be broadcast worldwide. Yende will also make her Dallas Opera debut in her signature Rosina in Christopher Mattaliano’s production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” She also returns to Munich for “L’Elisir d’Amore.”
A daring new staging of Verdi’s legendary La Traviata brings the classic tale into the internet age. And it has clicked with audiences at Opera Garnier.
In Simon Stone’s take on the beloved opera, the heroine Violetta is an influencer, an “it-girl”, independent and digital savvy.
South African soprano Pretty Yende is magnificent in her debut in the role.
“She’s a modern woman who lived by her own rules,” Yende tells Musica. “She stood up for her femininity and her way of life even when society deemed that immoral. She represented freedom.”
French tenor Benjamin Bernheim enthralls as her tragic lover. He is full of praise for how Stone has modernised La Traviata.
“He’s created a world of social networks on the internet and portrays the desire of millions of people to follow somebody on social media, to be liked and to be noticed, and to show that you follow somebody.
“This works really, really well and it’s proof that La Traviata is completely timeless.”
Verdi set the opera in Paris and based it on the life of Marie Duplessis, one of the most celebrated and sophisticated Parisian courtesans.
Yende says the setting brings added significance.
“To have this story in Paris with a woman who lived here makes it so real because when I walked the streets I felt like I was her, that she might have walked here.”
“To sing at Garnier is really magical. You feel a little bit like you’re in a fairy tale. One can only imagine the music and singers that these walls have heard over the last decades, even centuries.”
For Yende, Violetta’s emotional journey and tragic ending resonates profoundly.
“There are a lot of personal things also that I have gone through in my own personal life that were so terribly hard. Those moments can somewhat give me a glimpse of what she went through in her own sacrifices for her own life.”
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SA opera singer Pretty Yende, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last years, has hit new heights in a Paris production of La Traviata where the heroine is a social media influencer destroyed by the same society that propelled her to fame.
In the new Paris Opera version of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece, the heroine Violetta is an internet celebrity like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian, with her own brand of perfume and millions of followers.
Yet her fame turns to despair and solitude as she is forced to abandon her love for Alfredo — and the smiling emoji faces turn to tears.
Greeted with a standing ovation on opening night, the 34-year-old Yende, who was born in Piet Retief, conquered the vocal demands of Violetta in the first time she has taken on the emblematic role.
‘The perfect Pretty on Instagram’
But she also proved an inspired choice to star in the typically bold production by the in-demand Australian theatre, film and opera director Simon Stone, knowing all too well the pleasures and pitfalls of social media.
In Stone’s production, Violetta is a social media star with 147-million Instagram followers who shower her posts with likes, and even has her own perfume brand named Villain.
She and her lover Alfredo (French tenor Benjamin Bernheim) communicate obsessively via their phones using WhatsApp, with a revolving square screen showing their abundant use of emojis and selfies.
“We are always told to show ourselves strong, and then we end up suffering alone,” Yende, herself a keen user of Instagram with over 30,000 followers, said as the production got under way.
“I refuse to keep quiet about what it means to do what we do. I started sharing things and most people were writing me saying ‘thank you for saying that because no one is saying what it takes’.”
She also took an open approach “because I was trying to save myself from ending up competing with the perfect Pretty Yende on Instagram”.
The soprano decided on an opera career after hearing Delibes’s Flower Duet on a television advertisement at home. She then won a coveted place at the La Scala Academy in Milan.
Yende, who has won acclaim for various roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich and London’s Royal Opera House, said she was right to hold off until now before taking on Violetta.
“I feel I waited just enough. Because I’ve been offered the role many times. Many, many times. Like five years ago many people wanted to offer it to me but I knew I wasn’t ready.
“Not because I couldn’t sing it — I probably could have winged it — but it would have cost me.”
Yende insisted that the interactions on social media have helped rather than harmed her as she made the difficult transition from small-town SA to training at one of opera’s most austere institutions, and then stardom.
“I’ve had very difficult times: leaving South Africa, going to the academy of La Scala.
“I needed something that could inspire me. And so I started making quotes and sharing quotes on my Facebook and on my Instagram and people started saying, ‘Oh my God, I needed to hear that!’”
Yende lavished praise on Stone, saying that despite the challenges of his sold-out production, she could “immediately connect” with him.
The usual salon where Violetta throws a party in Act 1 is replaced by a nightclub where Violetta smokes and looks constantly at her phone.
Other scenes take place at a Paris kebab joint called “Paristanbul” and a coworking cafe.
“It’s been the most inspiring weeks of my entire ‘Pretty Journey’ — hashtag! — I have never been so inspired by a director before,” she said.
Despite some isolated boos and grumbling on social media about Stone’s update, reviewers praised the boldness of the production and in particular the quality of Yende’s singing.
“The director hits the mark by shifting Verdi’s masterpiece to the time of Instagram, WhatsApp and coworking spaces,” said online music review Revopera, describing the “freshness, brilliance and agility” of Yende’s singing as “sensational”.
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