He was in NYC last week for the awards ceremony for this Metropolitan Opera competition in which one of the winners was one of their students. And one of the others was a former UCT student, Musa Ngqungwana. It is apparently a really big deal - considered one of the very top Opera prizes for up and coming performers. picture Alain Barker

New York - A Cape Town-trained opera singer is one of six winners of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York, chosen from more than 1 500 singers across the US.

Port Elizabeth-born Musa Ngqungwana, 28, scooped the $15 000 (R139 350) prize after performing with nine other finalists on March 10. He is now a student at the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia, where he went to further his studies after graduating from UCT’s South African College of Music.

Ngqungwana said of his win: “I feel humbled, grateful for the experience and recognition it (the award) has brought me. And glad that my hard work is coming to fruition.”

The bass-baritone performed Riez, allez, riez du pauvre idéologue (Laugh, laugh at this poor idealist) from French composer Jules Massenet’s opera Don Quichotte, and O Luoghi Ameni (O Beautiful Places) from the opera La Sonnambluma (The Sleepwalker).

“This (competition) is the holy grail of all the opera competitions in the United States, thus winning it gives one exposure and paves a way for possibilities of singing roles at the Met (Metropolitan Opera) and other major opera houses in the world.

“The attendance of managers, stage directors, conductors and artistic administrators puts us in the right spotlight,” Ngqungwana said.

He was among hundreds of singers who first competed at district and then regional levels of the competition.

The eliminations eventually led to him qualifying as one of 20 semi-finalists, then as one of 10 grand finalists who performed on March 10, accompanied by the Met Orchestra.

Ngqungwana is now in his third year of a four-year programme at the AVA.

“I do come home to visit at least once a year. About coming to live (in South Africa), time will tell once I have accomplished my objectives here. For now I am pursuing my studies and then I will pursue a full career as an opera singer.”

He credits his training at UCT with helping him get into the AVA. “It’s a private school and the admission is highly competitive,” Ngqungwana said.

The singer sang in church and school choirs, and when he was 16 joined the Viola Men’s Chorus in Port Elizabeth. “That is where I developed my interest in studying opera and singing on stage.”

His favourite opera to perform in is Don Giovanni, in the role of Leporello. He has performed this role in two different productions of the opera and said that, so far, it was the most fun for him to do.

Sadly, South Africa cannot look forward to seeing – and hearing – Ngqungwana perform here any time soon.

He is rehearsing to perform in the opera Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) and, later in the year, will participate at the Flagstad Festival in Oslo, and at the Ravinia Music Festival in Chicago.

Ngqungwana explained that – much like rugby, cricket and football had become a part of South African culture – opera was growing here too.

“So much has changed since 1994, and you need look no further than the work the Cape Town Opera has done over the past 19 years, (proving) that opera in South Africa is no longer a Eurocentric thing, it’s South African too,” he said.

Weekend Argus