A graduate of the UCT Opera School, Port Elizabeth-born Mpofu is still digesting the magnitude of this honour.
“I couldn’t believe (the news) then congratulations began pouring in and I shared the news with my family,” Mpofu said of the accolade, which she received news of shortly after returning to South Africa after the 2019 Glyndebourne, in which she made her debut last month.
While the success has been unprecedented, Mpofu admitted that the road to her present triumph has not been smooth.
“After I won second place in the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in 2016, I hoped for offers and went for auditions, but to no avail. I was told my voice was difficult to place as I can manage a variety of roles in the lyrical soprano register, and I think there was a preference for a more definite, limited range. I wondered, ‘what next?’ I had no clear direction at that time.”
Demotivated, she concentrated on finishing a postgraduate diploma in performance opera at the end of that year. An uninspiring role as Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen did little to boost her confidence, despite a meeting with staff of the Opera School designed to encourage her not to give up on her dreams of a singing career.
“That was a low point for me. Then out of the blue came the chance of auditioning in Europe through funds made available by the 2017 Nedbank Campaign and I was accepted for the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy. I appeared in Il Viaggio a Reims, which fortunately I knew well as we’d done it at the opera school here.
“At the end of that year (2017) I had some luck with other auditions and was accepted to sing Cunégonde in Candide with Bergen Opera. Then came my chance to participate in the Glyndebourne Opera Festival thanks to Pol Moe of the Bayerische Staatsoper.”
She is now due to join the Glyndebourne autumn tour singing the lead role of Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
“I have sung it before, which makes the vocal challenge of the part less demanding. I have more time to devote to interpreting the character. I’ve already met the director, Christiane Lutz, and she was very welcoming. I think she’ll be easy to work with. I was introduced to her by her husband, Jonas Kaufmann.”
Kaufmann is one of Europe’s leading tenors and it says much for the progress of this young singer that she now rubs shoulders with top operatic artists in Europe.
Back home she is doing vocal training with Sarita Stern and anticipates singing in Cape Town next year.
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