Essence – Style File: “I Feel Pretty”

South African soprano Pretty Yende is upending the world of classical music.

Feature: Essence

The Milan-based diva is booked at New York’s Metropolitan Opera through 2020. Before jetting off to Oslo to prepare for the role of Rosina, she shared the style and flair that complement her global reach.

Just across the street from the Metropolitan Opera, Pretty Yende recalls having an opening-night blooper when she made her acclaimed debut at the famed New York City opera house in January 2013. “I fell—boom!” says the South African soprano, 29, who was a last-minute replacement as Countess Adèle in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory. “I just remember it was so silent. I could feel everybody breathing; I could feel everybody’s heartbeat. But I snapped out of it—all of the tension that I was feeling just went away. Then they gave me a full standing ovation at the end.”

That was a rare stumble as Yende has scaled to the top of the opera world, from her 2010 sweep of the first prizes at the prestigious Belvedere Singing Competition and her 2011 triumph at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the World Opera Competition, to her performances on major stages like La Scala in Milan. After ending 2014 as Rosina in The Barber of Seville at Oslo’s Den Norske Opera, in February she’ll play Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper.

She’s come a long way from the small South African town of Piet Retief, where—after first singing in church and at family sing-alongs—she discovered opera as a teenager in a British Airways commercial featuring “The Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes’s Lakmé. “I heard the music, and somehow my soul knew what it was, but my mind didn’t know,” says Yende, sipping her caffe latte at Manhattan’s Empire Hotel. “The following day I asked my high school teacher what it was, and he told me it’s called opera. I said, “Is it humanly possible?” and he said, “Of course.” I said, “Well, you need to teach me that.”

Read the entire feature via Essence