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The Remarkable Story of Pretty Yende

Pretty Yende, South African soprano opera singer

The Musical Journey of Pretty Yende

Pretty Yende is a South African soprano opera singer who has developed her incredible talent to become one of the world’s most sought-after sopranos.

Ever since she discovered her voice, her life has been like a modern fairy tale. Her voice has taken her from a small town in South Africa to the metropolises of the Western world.

It has also led her from singing in a gospel church choir to performing on the world’s opera stages.

The Piet woman, with a radiant and striking voice, has learned to be a hard worker, never giving up, and learning new languages. She has also learned to be strong enough to get up and try again when she falls.

Initially, she wanted to become an accountant, but her passion for opera changed her life forever.

Now, she has become one of the most talented and captivating coloratura sopranos of her time.

Pretty Yende Early Life

Pretty Yende was born on March 6, 1985, in the town of Piet Retief, which is in the remote Mpumalanga province of South Africa. The town is known for its timber and paper industries and is close to the Swaziland border, about 300 miles from Johannesburg.

Hailing from a contented family of four siblings, Pretty Yende was their firstborn. Her father, Petros Yende, is a businessman, and her mother, Rose Thandi Yende, is a primary school teacher.

She grew up in a Zulu-speaking home in South Africa and proudly represents the Zulu ethnic group.

Pretty Yende Journey Into Music

Pretty Yende on stage
The magnificent voice behind the microphone

Pretty Yende’s journey into music began in her hometown of Piet Retief. There she would sing church hymns with her grandmother every night after supper.

Her grandmother would also teach her hymns and ask her to sing in front of the congregation. So she would stand in front of the congregation at the church and start to sing.

The reaction from the congregation was extraordinary to Yende, as she saw how her singing made them smile and feel happy.

This inspired her to have the courage to continue singing and to make people feel happy through her music.

Like many South Africans, Pretty Yende was first exposed to singing through her church choir.

Growing up singing in the church likely led her to describe herself as a church girl.

Pretty Yende Journey into Opera

Lawrence Brownlee as Elvino and Pretty Yende as Amina in the concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s -La sonnambula- Photo by Toni Suter

Before turning 16, Pretty had no knowledge of opera until a television advertisement caught her attention.

In 2001, specifically, she discovered captivating background music in a British Airways television commercial.

The advertisement featured the music of the Lakmé duet by Léo Delibes. The music drew her in with its melodious tunes and the power of the human voice.

The following day, she sought more information by asking her high school music teacher, Mr. K.N. Sithole, who informed her that it was called opera.

At 16 years old, she asked the teacher if it was possible for a human to produce such a supernatural voice. When he confirmed that it was, she requested that he teach her how to sing like that.

From that moment on, she knew she had to learn how to sing opera. She was so confident that she could do it since others could as well.

So, she made the decision at that moment to abandon her plans to become an accountant and instead train to become an opera singer.

Thereafter, upon her high school teacher’s recommendation, she joined the school choir and started her journey to stardom.

Pretty Yende Education

Pretty Yende in High School Uniform
Yende in High School Uniform

Pretty Yende received her secondary school education at Ndlela Secondary School and was a member of the school choir.

She was about to complete her high school education and had already received bursaries to study accountancy.

However, she changed her mind and decided to pursue a degree in lyrical music.

This decision came as a shock to her parents, but they supported her choice, believing it would make her happy in life.

Pretty Yende studied at the University of Cape Town

Pretty Yende’s passion for music led her to the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town.

She walked in with no formal background in music besides her experience in the school choir.

Studied with Virginia Davids

Virginia Davids and Pretty Yende
Virginia Davids and Pretty Yende

At the College, Pretty Yende studied vocals with Virginia Davids.

Virginia is the first black woman to have appeared on opera stages during the apartheid years in South Africa.

She actually had an international career in opera singing. However, she decided to return to South Africa to teach for the benefit of others.

In the beginning, Yende felt like she did not belong to the school of music because she did not feel as great as her colleagues. However, Virginia Davids helped her realize that everyone in the world has a gift, a calling, and something special. She further helped her feel like she belonged there.

Consequently, Pretty Yende realized her potential and worked very hard to achieve her goals in singing.

Studied With Angelo Gobbato

Angelo Gobbato
Angelo Gobbato

She also studied with Angelo Gobbato, the director of the university’s opera school at that time. Under Gobbato’s tutelage, Pretty Yende discovered the enchanting “magic” of opera.

Angelo Gobato and Kemal Khan of the Colleges’ Opera school helped Pretty Yende develop her musical and stage experience.

Gobbato emphasized the importance of learning Italian as if it were her mother tongue. Additionally, he instructed her on how to effectively communicate with audiences.

The skills imparted by Gobbato have equipped Yende for a successful international career.

With the help of Davids and Gobbato, Yende’s extraordinary talent blossomed. She eventually graduated cum laude from the school.

She earned a performer’s diploma in opera and a postgraduate qualification in opera with distinction from the college.

Pretty Yende at The Accademia Teatro La Scala

La Scala Opera Pretty Yende at House performance for the Friends of La Scala
Pretty Yende at La Scala Opera House performance for the Friends of La Scala 2013

The versatile soprano graduated from the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town but couldn’t afford to study internationally.

Despite this, she continued pursuing her dream by participating in various international singing competitions.

She won all the first prizes in every category for the international Belvedere competition in 2009.

Her winning the first prize in every category made her the first artist in the history of the competition to do so. This brought her to international attention.

Yende’s victories in these competitions earned her a place in the young artists’ program at La Scala in Italy.

The course aims to equip individuals who demonstrate exceptional artistic and vocal abilities with the necessary skills to pursue a successful professional career as an opera singer.

The course includes comprehensive training in voice, music, theater, and culture. It focuses on developing a solid foundation of knowledge and experience.

In 2010, the La Scala Academy in Milan accepted her as a student, making her the theater’s first black student.

During her studies at the esteemed Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Pretty Yende met some of the most renowned names in the world of opera. Some of them include Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballé, and Jessye Norman.

In addition, she studied with the great Italian sopranos Mirella Devia and Mirella Freni. Freni taught her to truly understand her voice and what she wanted to achieve with it.

Music Career

Pretty Yende on stage
P. Yende on stage

Pretty Yende started her career as a professional freelance artist, singing and performing in opera.

In 2010, she made her professional operatic debut as Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen at the Latvian National Theatre.

Since then, she has performed at nearly all major theaters around the world, including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Opéra National de Paris, and the Metropolitan Opera.

Additionally, she has performed at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Staatsoper Berlin.  The Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Opernhaus Zürich, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona are among the places where Pretty Yende has showcased her talent.

Most recently, she performed with the San Francisco Opera in San Francisco, California.

In January 2013, Pretty Yende unexpectedly debuted at the Metropolitan Opera. She sang in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory opposite Juan Diego Flórez at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

She had only a month’s notice and received rapturous acclaim for her performance.

In the same year, she also had a sensational debut in Vienna. Pretty Yende came in for an indisposed Cecilia Bartoli at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in the same opera.

In both performances, she achieved triumphs. These successes brought her immediate invitations to appear in all the world’s greatest theaters. They also catapulted her to international attention.

Pretty Yende And Sony Classical

Pretty Yende Dream Album
Yende’s Dream Album

In October 2015, Sony Classical signed a long-term recording contract with Yende.

On September 16th, 2016, Yende released her debut album “Journey” on Sony Classical. Yende’s album showcases some of the milestones of her musical journey.

The Journey album includes the much-loved Lakmé duet, which introduced her to the world of opera.

It also features the arias from Le Comte Ory, which gained her international recognition at the Met.

In October 2017, Pretty Yende released another album on Sony Classical titled “Dreams.”

The Dream album features arias from the Bel Canto and Romantic repertoires, allowing Yende to immerse herself in the world of dreams.

The Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi is conducted by Giacomo Sagripanti in the album.

Pretty Yende’s Performance

Pretty Yende in recital
Pretty Yende on stage

Yende, a popular opera singer, has performed at many famous opera houses in various cities. This includes Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Hamburg, and Paris. She has also sung many times at her “home theater” of La Scala and played diverse roles in several operas, such as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Juliette in Roméo et Juliette, Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Adina in L’elisir d’amore, and Elvira in I Puritani.

2022/2023 Season

Pretty Yende has an impressive lineup of engagements for the 2022/2023 season at the time of writing.

One of these engagements is a highly anticipated performance at Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6, 2023. The performance is slated for the coronation of Their Majesties the King and the Queen Consort.

In March 2023, she debuted her role as Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Staatsoper Hamburg.

In Germany, on February 5, 2023, she performed the role of Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

This year, she and Nadine Sierra embarked on an outstanding duo tour, which began on February 25th in Lausanne, Switzerland.

They also performed in Prague, Czech Republic, at Smetana Hall on March 1st, and at the Philharmonie de Paris in France on March 6th.

Accompanied by Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra, she performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in Philadelphia for one of her 2022/2023 season performances.

In December 2022, she also flew to New York to perform the same piece at Carnegie Hall.

She debuted her role as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata with the San Francisco Opera in California on November 27th, 2022, as part of an eight-performance run.

2021/2022 Season

Pretty Yende on stage in Naples, Italy.
Pretty Yende on stage in Naples, Italy.

During the 2021/2022 season, Pretty Yende returned to the Wiener Staatsoper to perform her signature roles of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata and Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani.

In July 2022, she performed Verdi’s La Traviata as Violetta on the Teatro San Carlo stage in Naples, Italy, marking her debut there.

She also played Violetta at the Royal Opera House in London, United Kingdom, and took on the role of Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Additionally, she performed as Violetta in Ferzan Özpetek’s production at the Teatro di San Carlo and gave a recital with pianist Michele D’Elia at the same venue.

Moreover, she starred as Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, and Stella in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.

On the concert stage, Pretty Yende made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, performing songs by Richard Strauss under the guidance of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

She also participated in the star-studded lineup for the Washington National Opera’s “Come Home: A Celebration of Return” concert. Moreover, she performed two concerts with the Parisian Frivolities, one at the Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne and the other at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

Additionally, she shared the stage with tenor Lawrence Brownlee for a concert at the Carmen Würth Forum and performed selected arias with the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra. Finally, she made several recital appearances in Atlanta, Geneva, and Stockholm during that season.

2020/2021 Season

Ms. Yende had a successful debut at the Wiener Staatsoper last season, portraying Adina in “L’elisir d’amore” and later playing Violetta in Simon Stone’s highly acclaimed production of “La Traviata.

She reprised her role as Violetta several times, including in productions by Patrick Bannwart at the Bayerische Staatsoper, David McVicar at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, and in her highly anticipated debut at the Teatro Massimo di Palermo.

She also starred as Amina in Bellini’s “La Sonnambula,” in a new production by Rolando Villazón at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

In addition, Yende performed in a special Mozart and Bel Canto gala concert led by Giacomo Sagripanti at the Teatro di San Carlo and participated in the Metropolitan Opera’s “New Year’s Eve Gala Live in Concert,” which was streamed live from the Parktheater in Augsburg, Germany.

She also joined tenor Benjamin Bernheim for a recital with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. The recital was conducted by Sascha Goetzel. She later returned to Paris for the annual “Concert de Paris” to celebrate Bastille Day.

The 2019/20 Season

In the 2019/20 season, Ms. Yende performed two highly anticipated role debuts in Paris: she played Violetta in Simon Stone’s new production of La Traviata and the title role in Manon, which featured a new production by Vincent Huguet.

Furthermore, she embarked on a solo recital tour, performing at various stages in various countries.  These include Oper Frankfurt, Opernhaus Zürich, Smetana Hall in Prague, the Barbican in London, and Carnegie Hall in New York.

2018/2019 Season

Ms. Yende started the 2018/19 season by returning to Barcelona as Elvira in I Puritani. She also returned to The Metropolitan Opera as Marie in La fille du régiment and portrayed her first Leïla in Les Pêcheurs de perles, which received critical acclaim from The New York Times for her ability to sublimate suppressed erotic longing into pure vocalism with elaborate ornamentation.

Moreover, she performed as Norina in Don Pasquale at the Opéra national de Paris. She also played her first Amina in La Sonnambula at the Opernhaus Zürich. Thereafter, she returned to the Bayerische Staatsoper to perform the title roles of Lucia di Lammermoor and Adina in L’elisir d’amore.

Other Performances By Pretty Yende

In 2016, she performed as Adina in L’Elisir d’amore at the Staatsoper in Berlin and as Pamina at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, both of which were notable performances. She also debuted as Elvira in I Puritani at the Zurich Opera and appeared for the first time at the Paris Opera in The Barber of Seville. Additionally, Sony Classical recently released her debut CD titled “Pretty Yende: A Journey.”

During the 2014/2015 season, she showcased her vocal prowess in various performances, such as Pamina in The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera and Rosina in The Barber of Seville at the Oslo Opera. Yende also took part in the tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. In addition, she plays Norina in her debut performance at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro in Los Angeles.

In the 2013 / 2014 season, she performed as Micaela at the Los Angeles Opera and as Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia at the Hamburg Staatsoper. Pretty Yende also returned to Milan’s La Scala in Le Comte Ory.

She made her New York debut in January 2013 at the Metropolitan Opera, where she played the role of Comtesse Adèle in Comte Ory alongside Juan Diego Florez. She reprised the same role at the Theater an der Wien. That same season, she also debuted in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in Cape Town.

Pretty Yende’s Opera Roles

Pretty Yende in Donizettis Don Pasquale
Soprano Pretty Yende and Tenor Javier Camarena 

Pretty Yende has gained critical acclaim for her performances in a variety of opera roles. She has been praised for her vocal range, technical skill, and ability to convey emotional depth in her performances.

Some of the notable roles that Pretty Yende has performed include Berenice in Rossini’s “L’occasione fa il ladro,” Elvira in Rossini’s “L’italiana in Algeri,” and the Priestess in Verdi’s “Aida.”

Yende has also performed in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” as Barbarina and Susanna, as well as in Puccini’s “La Bohème” as Musetta.

Other roles that Pretty Yende has taken on include Comtesse Adèle in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory,” Lucia in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and Micaëla in Bizet’s “Carmen.”

She has also played Juliette in Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” Fiorilla in Rossini’s “Il turco in Italia,” and Pamina in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

In addition to these roles, Pretty Yende has also performed as Rosina in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Adina in Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore,” Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani,” and Amira in Rossini’s “Ciro in Babilonia.”

She has also taken on the role of Marie in Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment,” Zoraide in Rossini’s “Ricciardo e Zoraide,” Leïla in Bizet’s “Les pêcheurs de perles,” Amina in Bellini’s “La sonnambula,” and Violetta in Verdi’s “La traviata.”

Furthermore, Pretty Yende has also played the titular role in Massenet’s “Manon” and has portrayed various characters in Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann,” including Stella, Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta.

Overall, Pretty Yende’s extensive repertoire and impressive performances have solidified her as one of the leading sopranos of her generation. Her ability to bring depth and emotion to her characters has made her a favorite among opera lovers worldwide.

Awards and Honours

Pretty Yende and President Jacob Zuma
Pretty Yende received a presidential Hand Shake from the president Jacob Zuma of South Africa

Pretty Yende has received several other distinguished honours, such as the ‘Order of Ikhamanga in Silver’ from the South African government.

This honour recognized her outstanding achievements and worldwide recognition in the opera industry. It also acknowledged her role as an inspiration for young aspiring musicians.

More recently, she was bestowed with the Italian Knighthood, Ordine Stella d’Italia, for her efforts in strengthening relationships between Italy and other nations. This makes her the youngest South African to receive this recognition.

In October 2022, the French Minister of Culture, Madame Rima Abdul Malak, awarded Pretty Yende the Ceremonial Badge of Honour.

South African Cosmopolitan voted for Pretty Yende as their Fun and Fearless Female, and she was also recognized as one of South Africa’s most successful women.

Competitions Won by Pretty Yende

Pretty Yende’s exceptional vocal talents have earned her numerous trophies in different competitions.

In 2008, she competed in the International Vocal Competition ‘s-Hertogenbosch and claimed two prestigious prizes: the Prize of the Province of North Brabant and the Engagement Opera Riga.

Her outstanding performance led to an invitation to showcase her talents at the Latvian National Opera in December of the same year.

The following year, Yende continued to excel and achieved first place in both the opera and operetta categories at the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna.

In 2010, she secured first place in three competitions: the 1st Vincenzo Bellini International Competition, the 1st International Singing Competition of the Savonlinna Opera Festival (jointly), and the 6th Leyla Gencer Voice Competition, maintaining her winning streak.

In 2011, Yende reached the pinnacle of her remarkable achievements by emerging as the first prize winner at Operalia, which was hosted in Moscow that year.

Her exceptional talent and hard work enabled her to achieve unparalleled success, solidifying her position as one of the most outstanding vocalists of her time.

Pretty Yende’s Musicianship

Pretty Yende has swiftly risen to become one of the most accomplished and charismatic coloratura sopranos of her generation.

Her exquisite performances have received standing ovations on the world’s most famous opera stages on different occasions.

The beautiful South African soprano has garnered worldwide acclaim, making her one of the brightest stars in the world of classical music.

She is known for her magnetic charm, distinguished operatic and solo performances, and critically acclaimed discography.

Pretty Yende’s remarkable vocal abilities are widely recognized, particularly her expertise in coloratura and her captivating lyricism.

She executes runs and trills with remarkable ease, showcasing her exceptional control and mastery of her craft.

Even when reaching soaring heights, such as a high E natural, Yende’s vocals remain effortless and free of any noticeable strain.

Her lustrous tone and exceptional vocal prowess have established her as one of the most outstanding vocalists in the industry.

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