Los Angeles Times: Interview with Pretty Yende

Had it not been for a random encounter with a British Airways television commercial when she was 16, soprano Pretty Yende might be crunching numbers in an office today rather than performing at some of the world’s most famous opera houses.

The South African singer recalled in a recent interview that she was home watching TV when she came across the commercial, which featured music she had never heard before — something strange but also weirdly beautiful.

“It didn’t sound human at all,” she said. Later, she learned that the score was the popular Flower Duet from Delibes’ “Lakmé.”

And so a love of classical opera was born. Starting Saturday, Yende will star as Susanna in Los Angeles Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” which runs through April 12 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The 30-year-old last appeared with the company in a 2013 staging of “Carmen.”

Yende said that becoming an opera singer first meant convincing her parents, who wanted her to pursue accounting. (Her mother is a teacher, and her father drives a taxi.)

The singer grew up in a Zulu-speaking family in the town of Piet Retief, in the northeastern part of South Africa on the border with Swaziland. For her, “opera was completely foreign and never existed until that ad,” she said.

Read the entire feature via the Los Angeles Times

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Essence – Style File: “I Feel Pretty”

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

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Operavore Feature

Soprano Pretty Yende, who returned to the Metropolitan Opera last Monday as Pamina in The Magic Flute and who will give her Carnegie Hall recital debut this Monday night, has to continually pinch herself. “I have to keep reminding myself that I am the story, I am the dream!” she says, remembering a time during her studies in South Africa when she watched a performance by her Flute co-star René Pape on video and wished that one day she could sing on stage with him at the Met.

Yende’s story, which began in Piet Retief, a township in the timber-growing region of Mpumalanga, is peppered with magical elements that could have been dreamed up by Gabriel García Márquez if it weren’t for the irrepressibly joyful tone of the narrative.

Her idyllic childhood culminated in a Eureka moment when the then 16-year-old Yende, on track to become an accountant one day, heard a British Airways commercial featuring the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé. Thus began what she calls a “journey of music” that would take her first to Cape Town, then to Milan to study at La Scala’s Academy of Lyric Opera, then to the Met in January 2013 where she made her stunning debut in Le Comte Ory,replacing a sick Nino Machaidze as Adèle—a role she’d never sung—with just one month’s notice. She famously took a spill down the stairs during the first scene on opening night, only to laugh it off in the wings and return to deliver a performance that set off a chain reaction of ovations, rhapsodic reviews and frantic calls from booking agents.

Read the entire feature via WQXR

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The Arts Desk: 10 Questions for Soprano Pretty Yende

Everyone who heard it must have been charmed by South African soprano Pretty Yende’s Radio 4 chat in which she recounted what hooked her on opera. It was a coup de foudre, watching a British Airways ad on telly at home in Piet Retief, and the sound of those two female voices entwined in the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé.

Quite a catchy tunesmith, that Delibes: for those of an older generation, like myself, it was Lakmé’s Bell Song which parents remembered from old films, occasioning in my case a trip to Sutton Record Library to find it on The World of Joan Sutherland. I became infatuated with opera on the spot, but I didn’t become a soprano. Yende did, and from a careful training in Cape Town and a key role as “Summertime” Clara in Porgy and Bess, she blossomed at La Scala’s Young Artists’ Training Programme under superstar eyes and stepped in with a month’s notice to sing opposite Juan Diego Flórez at the Met.

Everyone who heard it must have been charmed by South African soprano Pretty Yende’s Radio 4 chat in which she recounted what hooked her on opera. It was a coup de foudre, watching a British Airways ad on telly at home in Piet Retief, and the sound of those two female voices entwined in the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé.

Quite a catchy tunesmith, that Delibes: for those of an older generation, like myself, it was Lakmé’s Bell Song which parents remembered from old films, occasioning in my case a trip to Sutton Record Library to find it on The World of Joan Sutherland. I became infatuated with opera on the spot, but I didn’t become a soprano. Yende did, and from a careful training in Cape Town and a key role as “Summertime” Clara in Porgy and Bess, she blossomed at La Scala’s Young Artists’ Training Programme under superstar eyes and stepped in with a month’s notice to sing opposite Juan Diego Flórez at the Met.

She hasn’t looked back, and to go with a beautiful voice that’s much richer than she or others first thought, a lyric soprano that can also cope with Sutherland-style coloratura, is a personality that’s both absolutely self-assured and totally adorable with it. Yes, she has the star quality, the professionalism and the staying power, you can be sure of that. Catch her at her second London recital in the Cadogan Hall tomorrow tomorrow; next stop, the Royal Opera (though she can’t as yet reveal in what). When I met her  – she was on a flying visit from Milan – I had to start at the usual place.

DAVID NICE I was instantly captivated by what you said on the radio, and I apologise, it’s probably a bit boring for you, especially at the end of a long day of interviews, but it was so charming what you recounted about how you came to opera. Would you mind repeating that, and then I’m sure we can take a different line from there. You came from a non-operatic background, didn’t you?

PRETTY YENDE Definitely, but music has always been in the house, and I’ve always been singing in church, gospel and church hymns – I was in the congregation, but I was also the youth leader,  and in the Sunday school I used to be the soloist starting off the choir, so my singing career came from there, and that’s where I got my confidence from [big laugh]. I only got to know about opera in 2001 when I heard the British Airways music and that was only 10 seconds for me that were so amazing. It spoke to my soul, somehow I knew what it was, but my mind didn’t understand. So I went to my high school teacher and asked him what it was. He told me it was from an opera and I said, wow, can human beings do it? I was 16 at the time, because it sounded so supernatural to me. Somehow it just made everything else stop and love beyond measure, joy beyond measure, beyond the love of my family, I was always lucky to have such a loving family and to live in such a beautiful town, but it was beyond all that.

Read the entire feature via The Arts Desk

Image: Jonathan Rose

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ClassicFM: Interview with Pretty Yende

With so many musical achievements under her belt, from training at La Scala, Milan, to winning Plácido Domingo‘s prestigious Operalia competition, it’s hard to believe Pretty Yende had never heard of opera until 2001.

After listening to the Flower Duet by Lakmé on the British Airways advert, Pretty abandoned her dream to become an accountant and dived head first into the world of opera. In this in-depth interview with Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, Pretty explains the magic of discovering the genre for the first time.

“Those ten seconds gave me the whole world of classical music, the richness of the music, the limitless power of that music,” she said. “I didn’t even know it was humanly possible, it sounded so supernatural to me.”

Read the entire feature via ClassicFM

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BBC – Hitting the right note: South African soprano Pretty Yende comes home

South African opera star Pretty Yende has made a remarkable journey from her home town of Mpumalanga to La Scala in Milan.

The soprano fell in love with opera after hearing it on a television advert, and has gone on to sing with some of the biggest names in classical music.

Milton Nkosi was granted a rare interview as she returned to South Africa to perform.

Watch the interview feature via the BBC

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The New York Times: Interview with Pretty Yende

On a recent cold and rainy afternoon, Pretty Yende sat on a couch in the press room of the Metropolitan Opera House, retracing the path that took her from a childhood in South Africa to her acclaimed Met debut last month. On Jan. 17 she received a raucous standing ovation from the audience after singing Adèle in Rossini’s “Comte Ory” opposite the star tenor Juan Diego Flórez. Now, dressed in leggings and boots and wearing rimless, flexible glasses that resisted her frequent attempts to fix them in place, Ms. Yende, a 27-year-old soprano, looked more like a graduate student than like a diva.

In the interview, this self-described “church girl” from Piet Retief, a timber- and paper-producing town near the border with Swaziland, was poised and quick to laugh, modest but quietly confident. She sings Adèle two more times at the Met, on Saturday and Tuesday. Since Ms. Yende’s debut, her phone has been ringing with offers from agents. So far, she said, she has turned them all down.

“This is my year to study,” she said. “It’s a Verdi and Wagner season, and I don’t have so much Verdi or Wagner.” Then she added, with a giggle, “ Yet.” She is studying the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” with the venerable bel canto singer Mariella Devia; Ms. Yende plans to move to Paris and learn to speak French.

“Prima la salute, poi la musica,” she said in accent-free Italian, which she learned over the past three years while studying at La Scala’s Academy of Lyric Opera in Milan: “Health first, music second.”

Ms. Yende said she needed courage to accept the Met’s offer to step in for Nino Machaidze, the soprano who had been scheduled to sing Adèle but fell ill. The call came a mere month before opening night, and because of communication delays and visa troubles, Ms. Yende had effectively just one week to learn the part.

“I had never heard the opera before,” she said. “So when I got the call, I said, how can I say yes? But when I looked at the score, I thought, ah. It’s not like a Susanna, where you have many recitatives. It’s ensemble work. And it’s beautiful music, which got into my ear quite quickly. I knew that I could do it, you see.”

What she couldn’t have foreseen was the manner in which she would make her first entrance: stumbling down a flight of steps after a brief pantomime appearance during the overture and falling hard on her hands and knees, to the gasps of audience members. But instead of shaking her up, she said, the fall helped release tension, as she saw its comic aspect.

“I thought, why am I laughing? I have a huge aria to sing, and now I’ve bruised myself. But I guess there had to be something that pulled the whole mind to one place. And it had to be the fall.”

Singing at the Met, she said, “takes a lot of courage, but also a lot of humility, because people come from all over the world just to hear you. God knows why; people are going through a lot of things. We have this gift of music, and to be able to share that takes a huge responsibility. And probably I had to be reminded that I am entering a zone where I am actually going to be carrying that responsibility, and I should just remember to keep my feet on the ground.”

Read the entire feature via The New York Times

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