South African soprano Pretty Yende is no stranger to readers of Creative Feel. We are still proud to have been the first magazine to feature the now globally renowned star on our cover when she made her debut appearance at RMB Starlight Classics.
An excerpt from the Lakmé Flower Duet, which was used as the soundtrack for an old British Airways advert, was all it took to set Pretty Yende on a journey to international stardom. That brief clip served as her introduction to opera: ‘Is it humanly possible?’ she wondered of the sounds she had heard. ‘At 16, growing up in a very small town, I had no idea that human beings were capable of such a gift.’
This question was to lead her away from her home town of Piet Retief, where she sang in church and the school choir, onto some of the most prestigious stages around the world. Her debut performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera, where she ‘jumped in’ at short notice to take on the role of Adèle opposite Juan Diego Florez, earned her what NPR (National Public Radio) described as a ‘standing, shouting, screaming, ovation’, despite an initial mishap when she stumbled on stage. After that, she says, ‘offers came like rain’ and she is now in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose her roles. ‘A career is best made with saying no more often than yes,’ she notes. ‘Planning such an exciting journey is the fun part – we [Yende and her management] get offers from the opera houses and we make the best decisions, keeping in mind what the voice “says” and what it allows.’
Yende has appeared at the Los Angeles Opera as Micaela in Carmen; at the Teatro alla Scala in Le Comte Ory; as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at the Metropolitan Opera; and taken the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Deutsche Oper Berlin – to name but a few of her sparkling accomplishments.
Most recently, she appeared at the Verbier Festival, to which she was invited to return following her successful debut there with James Vaughan. The organisers requested that she sing a recital and perform Strauss’s Frühlingstimmen with the Chamber Orchestra of Verbier, as well as Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate opposite Joshua Bell.
In September she returns to South Africa, albeit briefly, as she remains based in Milan, where she is ‘loving just relaxing in my apartment and going to La Scala to watch concerts and operas, and seeing many parts of Italy as well as Switzerland.’ Here in South Africa, she will once more take to the stage with Bell, at this year’s edition of RMB Starlight Classics. ‘We are both very excited about our collaboration and can confirm that we will be presenting a very special and most enjoyable programme for RMB Starlight Classics audience,’ she says.
Yende is also hoping to perform in aid of her own ‘Pretty Yende Foundation’: ‘I am looking forward to putting on concerts around South Africa, seeing the project grow and ensuring that each child in every village knows about classical music,’ she says. ‘If I got to know about opera the way I did, by accident really, fate – and we all witness what has happened – how much more [might I have done] if I knew about opera way before? There are endless possibilities.’
Looking ahead, Yende is set to record her first album with Sony Classics in Torino with conductor Marco Armiliato, before taking up a series of lead roles – one glittering engagement after the next – across the capitals of Europe and in the United States, a line-up that sees her well into the 2017/18 Season. The demand for her particular, inimitable talent is huge. ‘It is the most exciting season of my career and life and I am very grateful,’ she says.
It’s amazing that a career such as this can be traced back to one brief instant when she heard a fragment of a song, a moment in which something changed, ‘something that I couldn’t touch or see, but that I could feel, that I needed to know if somebody could feel the same way,’ Yende says. ‘It was an immense joy that I wanted to share with everyone.’
And she does.