For the glorious Zandile Gwebityala (pictured) singing has become a family affair.
When she was single, it was simply a matter of packing her bags, but now things are different. “They’re my foundation,” she says of her husband and almost 3-year-old daughter who both support her all the way.
But first she will step out at the Market on Friday for her first solo recital in her home country. And she feels thrilled to be putting together a repertoire that will consist of all her favourite arias.
The Market Theatre tries to provide a platform for emerging and talented local artists and has included Opera Nights in its line-up offering opera lovers repertoires presented by Mzansi’s seasoned and emerging golden voices. Gwebityala will launch this series and perform her first solo recital at home with a Night of Opera Arias with Friends.
Her singing career started in the Eastern Cape, in a small town called Elliot, where her mother was a school teacher but also the school’s choir master. Gwebityala joined the choir as a teen.
“I didn’t play much of a solo role,” she says, and it was only when they were looking for a soprano just before a competitive performance that the other teachers ganged up and told her mother to look no further than her own family that she was considered. Before that she was muddling through on her own, trying to sing like the operatic voices she heard on radio or TV.
But she feels blessed that she comes from a musical family and was surrounded by the sound of music all her life. Like many young singers from that part of the country, Gwebityala was helped with a bursary for further studies by Mzwandile Matthews, the big promoter and instigator of opera on school level in this region.
“He was probably the one that did the most,” she says and I have heard this countless times from other young singers who have made it on to international stages. “It’s one guy who paves the way,” says Gwebityala.
She’s been lucky, though. Along the way, she married a man who acknowledges that his wife should be on stage.
“He can see the light in my eyes, the joy and how it changes me when I’m on stage,” she says. And with her young daughter old enough to travel more easily, she hopes the family can live overseas while she forges her career. In the meantime, she had stepped out of performance for two years when she married and had a child but she’s back with a purpose.
“I love my country, but I need to sing internationally,” she says. She has been spending time in Paris, encouraged by a French couple who have also been great supporters. This present concert was also instigated by an admirer, Carolyn Steyn, who lost her heart to this particular voice.
It’s not that she has been handed a silver platter. “I had to help put the whole thing together,” says Gwebityala and that’s also been something she relished.
“I like the business and marketing side and have been encouraged by my husband to play a role in my career and not think it will simply happen.”
She has sung in many operas with Cape Town Opera and Opera Africa. Her operatic repertoire has included roles in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte and The Magic Flute, as well as Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen. Her most recent success was the rendition of Mahler’s Symphony No 4 in October.
Most of her solo work, however, has been done abroad with recitals in New York, Vienna, Paris, Seychelles, Zaragoza and Martinique.
But all of that is about to change with the concert on Friday, starting at 8pm, with cellist Kutlwano Masote leading the musicians and Cito stepping on stage halfway through the proceedings to join her in a rip-roaring Barcelona.