Rehearsing at the Cape Town opera house, singer Nombulelo Yende prepares for her participation in Operalia, one of the world’s most prestigious opera competitions. With a strong voice, she practices Mozart and Wagner, her expressive hand movements following the melody.
“Singing opera is so liberating to me. I love playing different characters, invoking so many emotions,” she expresses.
The competition serves as “a great audition,” according to Nombulelo Yende, a soprano who is also the younger sister of Pretty Yende, who won the First, Zarzuela, and Audience Prizes in 2011. At 32, Yende already has an established career but sees the contest as an opportunity to broaden her horizons.
Operalia, held from October 30 to November 5 in South Africa’s second-largest city, features 34 contestants chosen from an initial pool of about 800 singers. Sipokazi Moltino, one of the five South Africans shortlisted this year, is a 31-year-old mezzo-soprano based in New York. She had discovered opera through a Mozart aria and felt immediately attached to it, leading her to the deeper world of opera.
Sakhiwe Mkosana, a baritone, transitioned from dreaming of becoming a lawyer to a career in opera thanks to a high school teacher who recognized his talent during choir trials. He enjoys storytelling through opera and aims to convince people to attend opera shows, defying stereotypes regarding “classic” professions.
Luvo Maranti, a 29-year-old South African, left a job in human resources to pursue his opera dream, even though he lacked prior experience with Western scores. Maranti acknowledges the challenges but remains passionate about his choice to follow his heart.
Operalia, established 30 years ago by Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, provides contestants with significant exposure to managers, agents, and casting directors. It offers a unique opportunity for singers to be recognized without having to travel worldwide, with an international jury comprising established Opera Casting Directors and General Managers, presided over by Plácido Domingo.
Among the 20 participants proceeding to the semifinals, ten will be chosen for the finals.