Durban is the place where international opera singer Pretty Yende first discovered that her dream of performing was possible.
This weekend, she will relive that 12-year-old memory when she performs at the Old Mutual National Choir Festival at the Durban International Convention Centre.
When Yende first discovered opera music at the age of 16 she wondered how something so “supernatural” could be humanly possible. “I heard the Flower Duet by Delibes playing in a British Airways TV advert and being from a small town like Piet Retief I had never heard anything like that,” she said.
Yende asked her teacher about the music she had heard.
“I asked my teacher if it was humanly possible to do that,” said Yende.
Yende expressed her desire to sing opera and was advised to join the school choir. However, she was soon kicked out and told she could not sing.
This low point did not last long because her teacher approached her later with the news that opera music was being introduced in schools and Yende would have the opportunity to perform the Flower Duet at a National Schools Competition in Durban, alongside the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.
Yende, who had been offered a scholarship at Wits University to do a BCom accounting degree, decided to study music at the University of Cape Town instead.
In her final year she entered various international competitions and began making a name for herself.
Last year, Yende made her mark as a soprano on the international stage in Moscow when she won one of opera’s most coveted awards, the Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, as well as the Zarzuela Prize. She made history by being the first to scoop all the top prizes and being chosen as the audience and jury’s favourite.
Yende, who joined La Scala Opera House in Italy, has been living in Milan for three years.
Yende soon became fluent in Italian, French, German, Czech and other languages.
“I only knew English, Zulu and Afrikaans when I left South Africa,” she said.
Yende will be spending a few days in South Africa before she jets off to Milan again to prepare for the next three years, as she is fully booked until 2016.
“I will be performing in Washington, New York, Spain and other opera houses,” she said.
And how did a simple, local Piet Retief girl become an international star?
“I believe that all things are possible. When you have a vision you need to pursue it because you are the one who has seen what it looks like,” said Yende.