Benefit concert to honour pupil

Wendy Fine at her residence in Rondebosch.

South African opera singer, Wendy Fine will be having a benefit concert on Monday December 17 in honour of one of her late former pupils, Reginald Burricks.

Ms Fine, 79, from Rondebosch, who made her mark as an international soprano from the early 60s to the early 80s, spent most of the past 25 years of her life training young South African opera singers and giving them a platform to grow into superstars.

In this benefit concert, part of the proceeds will go to the newly-launched Reginald Burricks School of Music which opened at Kewtown Primary School in September.

“He was one of my very fine piano players and coaches. Because this year I saw they opened a school in his honour I will put on a benefit concert for him,” said Ms Fine.

Apart from this being a benefit concert for her former pupil, this will also form part of Ms Fine’s annual magical Christmas concert and will help her celebrate her 80th birthday which will be on Wednesday December 19.

Ms Fine is a retired singer, though her journey as an opera singer started when she was 18, when she studied at the Vienna Music Academy in Austria in the early 1960s. Ms Fine said because it was during apartheid, it was a very difficult time for a South African to make a career overseas.

Despite the difficult period, Ms Fine made her mark and became a world-class opera singer who has performed on some of the biggest stages in the world, including the Royal Opera House in London in 1977 at Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee of her ascension to the royal throne.

She was also the first South African to perform at the La Scala Milan Opera Theatre in Italy and she is also the first and only South African soprano to perform behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s in the old Czechoslovakia in Prague. She also performed in opera houses in America, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. She even graced the stage with acclaimed opera singers like Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

In South Africa she only performed once in the Old Nico Malan Centre (now the Artscape Theatre) in 1979.

Since she returned to South Africa in 1985, her main goal was to find and nurture future opera talent in South Africa. Her Wendy Fine vocal studio was opened in the mid-90s in Claremont and she continues up until today to teach aspiring singers.

While some of her students are semi-professionals who sing for a hobby, others have become household names in South Africa and some had pursued international careers. Mitchell’s Plain resident and opera singer James Bhemgee, who won SA’s Got Talent in 2010, was one of Ms Fine’s pupils.

Another student of Ms Fine was the late George Stevens, who was the former head of music at the SA College of Music at the University of Cape Town (UCT). At her concert, there will also be a special appearance by Fikile Mvinjelwa who is an experienced opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Mr Mvinjelwa was a student of Ms Fine before he studied music at UCT.

Ms Fine also hosted the Wendy Fine Opera Competition at the Old Nico Malan Centre from 1990 for 10 years, where the winner of the competition got an opportunity to go overseas to further their opera careers.

Last year the provincial government gave Ms Fine a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to the arts.

Chief executive officer of Artscape, Marlene le Roux, said Ms Fine remains one of South Africa’s pioneering luminaries, not only in the discipline of opera but the arts in general.

“She remains an exemplary example of what our country requires to engender nation-building. After an illustrious career, both domestically and abroad, she tirelessly continued nurturing opera as a discipline, focusing on rising talent in historically disadvantaged areas,” said Ms Le Roux.

Ms Fine will host her concert on Monday December 17 at Erin Hall, 8 Erin Road, Rondebosch, from 3.30pm. It will feature the likes of Mr Mvinjelwa and Theo Magongoma who have established opera careers abroad as well as 15 of Ms Fine’s opera students.

Entry is R100, which will include snacks, wine, sherry, juice and cake. For details, call Ms Fine on 021 685 2494.