D’une petite ville d’Afrique du Sud aux projecteurs des plus grandes maisons d’opéra en passant par les premiers prix des concours de chant les plus prestigieux, l’histoire de Pretty Yende ressemble à un conte de fée. Plus que le hasard ou la magie, une détermination inflexible en est le secret. Un premier album chez Sony Classical intitulé A journey vient raconter ce parcours hors du commun alors que se profile à Paris, du 14 octobre au 16 novembre Lucia di Lammermoor.
Vous avez chanté cet été pour la première fois de votre carrière au Rossini Opera Festival (ndlr : le rôle d’Amira dans Ciro in Babilonia aux côtés d’Ewa Podles).
Oui ; mon rêve est devenu réalité ! Rossini a toujours été mon compositeur porte-bonheur. J’ai fait mes débuts à La Scala avec L’occasione fa il ladro lorsque j’ai intégré l’Académie lyrique en 2010. Mon premier rôle au Metropolitan Opera de New York ainsi qu’au Theater an der Wien a été Adèle dans Le Comte Ory. J’ai aussi chanté Fiorilla (ndlr : Il turco in italia) à Hambourg Et maintenant Amira…Rossini est un compositeur important dans ma carrière.
Qu’avez-vous appris à Pesaro sur le chant rossinien ?
J’ai vraiment senti l’enthousiasme du public, j’ai vibré au diapason des connaisseurs de la musique de Rossini, ici plus qu’ailleurs. Au début, c’était presque intimidant puis je me suis laissée porter par le plaisir de partager cet amour que nous avons en commun pour Rossini.
Et d’un point de vue technique ?
J’avais déjà bénéficié de beaucoup de conseils de la part de beaucoup de chanteurs, notamment Luciana Serra lors de ma formation à l’Académie lyrique de La Scala, ou encore Mirella Freni. J’ai aussi étudié avec Mariella Devia. Avant même d’arriver à Pesaro, j’avais donc une bonne connaissance de ce répertoire. Certaines choses me viennent tellement instinctivement que chanter devient un pur plaisir. Les variations par exemple. Le plus difficile reste le passage du Rossini serioou Rossini buffo.
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.
As a 16-year-old, Pretty Yende was sitting with her parents in their rural South African home watching TV when a British Airways ad came on. As the sweet music swelled and voices intertwined, Yende was mesmerized. The only problem: She had no idea what to call the beautiful music she’d just heard.
“So I went to my high-school teacher the following day and I asked him what it was, and he told me it’s called opera,” Yende explained to NPR last year. The commercial had played the duet from Delibes’ Lakmé. “If you have the talent, you can do it,” her teacher told her.
Yende learned quickly. Now, her sparkling debut album, A Journey, unfolds like a musical diary chronicling the 31-year-old soprano’s fairytale rise to fame. After her studies at the South African College of Music in Cape Town, the awards and debuts began piling up, many of which are reflected in the arias she sings in this recital.
The album opens with “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini‘s Barber of Seville, an opera that served as Yende’s Paris Opéra debut earlier this year. It’s a smart leadoff performance, introducing the voice’s many assets: creamy warmth, a focused vibrato, shimmering and easily placed top notes. She tosses off the aria’s pyrotechnical flourishes with élan while revealing the spunky character of Rosina.
The aforementioned Lakmé “Flower Duet,” with a winsome-voiced Kate Aldrich, is an obvious choice, as is the Bellini aria that follows. “Ma la sola, ohimè,” from Beatrice di Tenda, helped Yende earn three prizes at Plácido Domingo‘s Operalia Competition in 2011. Here, Yende spins a silky bel canto line, carefully adding tinges of sadness to music that sometimes sounds brighter than the solemn text.
International opera singer Pretty Yende makes her Zurich opera theatre debut in Switzerland tonight.
The artist, who has been based in Milan for the past seven years, is without doubt South Africa’s best export.
She was in the country a few weeks ago for special performances, but had to rush back to her second home in Europe to prepare for this special night.
“I’m really looking forward to my debut in Zurich’s opera house. It is a new production as the prima donna in Bellini’s I Puritani. It will be the first time that I’ll be performing in that opera house. I am super-excited about this,” she says.
Pretty Yende is considered one of the rising stars of the operatic world. The 30-year-old South African debuted recently at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona in Donizetti’s masterpiece Don Pasquale, – a classic ‘“opera ‘buffa”with scenes of mistaken identities, love intrigues, disguises and a false marriage.
When Pretty Yende took the stage as Adèle in Rossini‘s Le Comte Ory, her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, her performance didn’t go quite as planned. She tripped and fell, to the astonishment of the audience. Still, it was a night she could never have imagined when she was growing up in rural South Africa.
Yende didn’t even know what opera was until the day she was home watching TV and heard a snippet of the Lakmé “Flower Duet.” She was a teenager then; today, at 30, she’s a rising star in the international opera community. Beginning Saturday, she’ll be at the Los Angeles Opera starring in a production of Mozart‘s The Marriage of Figaro. She spoke about her journey with NPR’s Renee Montagne; hear the radio version at the audio link and read more of their conversation below.
Renee Montagne: I’m going to begin with a story that is often told — but it is too good not to tell it again, which is how you first encountered opera music as a teenager.
Pretty Yende: I was home with my family in South Africa in 2001. We were watching TV at home with my family, and this one evening, there’s this ad on TV. And behind the ad, there’s this music. It’s the British Airways advertisement — you know, they use the Lakmé duet.
And so I hear these sounds, just those 10 seconds. I knew that it’s something that I should know, but I didn’t know what it was. And so I went to my high school teacher the following day and I asked him what it was, and he told me it’s called opera. And I said to him, “Is it humanly possible?” Because at 16, growing up in a very small town, in Piet Retief, I had no idea that human beings were capable of such a gift. And so he told me that of course it is humanly possible. If you have the talent, you can do it. I said to him, “Well, you need to teach me that.”
And so he advised me to join the choir, and I joined the school choir. And he told me that, “Pretty, I don’t think you’re an opera singer. I don’t think you’re a singer at all. You shouldn’t be singing, you should just continue with your quest of being an accountant,” because that’s what I wanted to do before I heard the music. I wanted to be an accountant. But something had changed, something that I couldn’t touch or see, but something that I could feel, that I needed to know if somebody could feel the same way. It was an immense joy that I wanted to share with everyone.
You’ve described yourself as a church girl. Did you sing in a church choir?
I grew up in the church. I grew up singing in the church. I remember walking with my grandmother to church and she would teach me songs, and she would tell me that when we get to church, “You will go up and stand in front of the congregation and start singing.” So my solo career started there.
I know that a very important person to you was a teacher a little bit later, who was extremely key to finding your voice. Tell us about that.
Virginia Davids. I was very fortunate to have her, because once I got to the South African College of Music, I felt I was not good enough. I just found out about singing and I don’t even know if I can. But she was really kind enough to make me understand that each and every one of us are special in their own way, but I need to start actually looking at myself and really accepting myself as an individual. And so a big part of that is accepting this gift that I’ve just been given. I need to open my box and look what’s inside.