Gauteng Opera (previously Black Tie Ensemble VO1SS) kicks off its 2014 season with a fully staged operatic production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte (sung in Italian with English subtitles), opening on Sunday, March 2 at Pretoria’s State Theatre. Directed by the company’s chief executive, Marcus Desando, and funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the production forms part of their development programme. The main cast will be understudied by Gauteng Opera’s Studio members, while Gauteng Opera Academy trainees will form part of the chorus. The cast consists of experienced opera singers, including soprano Nozuko Teto as Fiordiligi, who is performing in Italy after winning an international singing competition, Toti del Monte. DIANE DE BEER chats to the young star in the making.
When she was thinking of a career, Nozuko Teto knew she would choose happiness. “Nothing makes me as happy as singing,” she says.
She is currently in Modena, Italy, where she has been studying and performing for two years, and it’s quite a leap from the village on the Wild Coast where she grew up.
“I was dreadfully homesick when I first went to Italy,” she says.
It wasn’t her first international trip, but this time she had gone overseas to stay. She was alone and couldn’t speak the language.
“I wanted to buy a SIM card to call home,” she said, but no one understood her. It was a language barrier, and she was determined to get that out of the way – quickly.
Which she did. And once she could manage the language, everything got much better.
It’s been a tough road for this young opera singer, but she knows this is what she wants to do. She has dreams, and she’s determined to make them work.
“I’ve had so many people help me along the way,” she says. From conductor Richard Cock with his Apollo Music Trust that first got her postgraduate studies going, to the wise souls who helped her through her pregnancy, which wasn’t planned, but was embraced.
There were times she thought she would have to teach, and she knows that is what most trained singers end up doing, but too many people have noticed her talent and encouraged her to keep aiming for the stage.
Her studies, which resulted in a BMus degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, started with a bursary she won through an opera initiative for schools. The fifth of eight children, there wasn’t money for education beyond school. And now that she has her own young son to think about, she is also constantly weighing up the future. “I want a family, a husband and a home for my son – one he deserves,” she says.
And she’s singing her way there. In between international gigs, she recently performed as Winnie Mandela in Mandela Trilogy in Paris in the France-South Africa season.
When she travelled to Pretoria for Cosi Fan Tutte, her first visit to the Jacaranda City, she was worried she had agreed too easily to the challenge. Mozart’s opera is far removed from Puccini’s La Boheme, which is her current Italian gig until the end of April.
She’s a woman used to facing her fears. When she decided to make singing her life, she didn’t know anyone else who had done that. She had heard it was possible to make a living in this way, but didn’t know women she could talk to about it.
Music, becoming a mother and travelling solo to achieve her dreams have all matured this wise woman. She talks quietly about her ambitions, knows how she wants to move her life forward, and sets about doing just that without much fuss.
“When I’ve needed it, people have been there to take care of me,” she says of the importance of faith in her life. She believes in her own ability and trusts in her talent.
“I know I’ve got what it takes to make it,” she says, almost matter-of-factly.
Italy has taught her patience. She knows new territory is again around the corner, because the world beckons from Berlin. “The arts are suffering in Italy, and I have to get out there to find a good agent who will market me,” she says. But first she has to finish the La Boheme season.
But as we speak, now she first has to get the new character under her skin.
“Mozart is very different in style from Puccini,” she explains. And while these are early days in rehearsal, she knows she will conquer.
“It’s tough, but achievable,” says this vocal warrior.
This is her dream – singing for a living.
• Cosi Fan Tutte, which loosely translates as “women are like that”, pokes fun at how fickle love is, by playing two young men off against themselves as they place a bet to test their lovers’ love.
“This production is set in the present in a seaside village. It explores the opulence of the rich girls and their fickle lovers,” says director Marcus Desando.
• Performance dates: March 2 at 3pm; March 4 at 3pm (school performance); March 7 at 8pm; and March 9 at 3pm.