They sing on the stages of the biggest Opera houses, they are young, they are talented, inspiring and are from the beautiful continent of Africa
1. Pretty Yende ( South Africa)
Pretty Yende, a South African soprano, risen to the top of the opera world with unparalleled speed. Yende didn’t know what opera was until 2001 at 16 years old. She was at home watching TV and heard a snippet of the Lakmé “Flower Duet.” Today, at 34, she’s a rising star in the international opera community.
She made her debut in 2013 at the Metropolitan Opera, replacing Nino Machaidze after she became ill as a result of a last-minute change in casting that both delighted and worried the opera world. Yende took a week to learn the role of Adèle in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory. Meanwhile, casting for a Met season is usually announced more than six months in advance.
She is a graduate from the South African College of Music and studied under Virginia Davids, first black woman to sing in opera houses in Apartheid South Africa. She is also a graduate of the La Scala theater Academy.
By the time Yende arrived in New York, she was already a star. She arrived with a collection of first prizes in opera competitions across Europe and had already sung Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème at La Scala. Soon after her Met debut, Yende took on many lead roles, many of which reaffirmed her as the first black woman to sing that character on a Western stage. She performed the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Paris Opera in 2016. She has been the first black Lucia at Lincoln Center, the first black Lucia in Paris, the first black person to have a new production of La Traviata in Opera Garnier in Paris. But for Yende, although breaking barriers in the Opera world is important, the most important thing is that she can partake in a universal language of love through Opera music, and she hopes that artists, and the opera industry in general, play a big part in teaching the world equality when it comes to that.”
2. Jacques-Greg Belobo ( Cameroon)
He was born in Cameroon and is considered the most successful African classical music export. He is based at the Semperoper in Dresden, Germany. Belobo first started his voice studies in his native town, Yaoundé in Cameroon.
He won prizes including; First Prize in the Concours National de Chant Classique in 1996, the Concours International Diapason in Abidjan, and Ivory Coast Concours Aguimucla in Yaoundé in 1997. Then he had the scholarship to study at the Conservatoire National de Nice. There, he won the Gold Medal in 1998, as well as the Operetta Competition in Rennes. He was the winner of the Concours National de Chant Lyrique in Béziers and Concours National de Chant Lyrique in Ales.
Despite his disenfranchised background, he becomes a celebrated opera singer in Europe. Belobo presents a mixed repertoire of French melodies, Negro spirituals, and modern classical opera arias, telling his own story as an inspiration to others because he believes it is possible to make the seemingly impossible happen.
In 1998, he got admitted at the Conservatoire of Music and Dance of Paris in 1998, and he graduated in 2001. He has been winning prize after prize, among them the Second Prize of the International Competition of Geneva in 2000 and 5 Prizes at the International Belvedere Competition in Vienna in July 2002. Prizes that include engagements with the Semperoper Dresden, with the Strasbourg Opera, the Kammeroper Vienna and a recital at the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne.
He is really in demand and has done concerts with conductors like Zubin Metha, James Levine, Myung-Whun Chung Ivor Bolton, Fabio Luisi, Michel Piquemal, Paul Goodwin, Roland Hayrabedian, Johannes Wildner, to name a few.
He sings several roles and parts, such as Kaspar and Eremit (Der Freischutz), Il Grande Sacerdote (Nabucco), Leporello (Don Giovanni), Vicar Gedge (Albert Herring), Polyphemus (Acis et Galatea), The Verdi Requiem, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Rossini’s La Petite Messe Solennelle, Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Bach Cantatas or Fauré’s Requiem.
Belobo is also a member of the “Junges Ensemble der Bayerischen Staatsoper München” and regularly performs at the opera of Gelsenkirchen.
In 2003, he was selected from singers around the world to compete in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, in Wales.
Jacques-Greg is still in touch with his Cameroonian roots despite a very successful career abroad. He still performs in Cameroon, and partakes in many Development Projects in Cameroon.
3. Pumeza Matshikiza ( South Africa)
Born in a township on South Africa's Eastern Cape, Pumeza discovers Opera by accident as a teenager while switching between radio stations, and stumbled on the Marriage of Figaro music sang by the great Swiss soprano Edith Mathis. She was spellbound. Unfortunately, in the last years of apartheid, music lessons were beyond her reach. So, since she was a quick learner, she learned African and European music in church choirs by ear.
In pursuit of a safer life, she moved from township to township with her mum.
Without knowing that one day, her voice will capitulate her to stardom. She heard herself for the first time on tape while attending the University of Cape Town.
4. Levy Strauss Sekgapane ( South Africa)