Rondeboch music student Yolisa Ngwexana took part in the Online Voices of South Africa Opera Singing Competition hosted by London-based South African baritone Njabulo Madlala.
The competition was held in response to the Covid-19 lockdown which had affected the arts and resulted in singers not being able to perform live for audiences.
Operatic singers from across South Africa were invited to submit one-minute video clips of their singing via Facebook in various categories. After listening to all of them, Mr Madlala selected finalists to submit another five-minute video of themselves from their homes singing any opera song from which several finalists were chosen to sing live on
Facebook in a series of Sunday events.
Yolisa won a Performance Arts Lab scholarship to an opera masterclass programme led by Dominic Wheeler and Martin Lloyd Evans as well as a R2000 cash prize. Yolisa is a second year music student at North West University and is currently back home, learning remotely.
Yolisa, originally from Khayelitsha, has been involved with community choirs for more than five years but only started receiving professional training from 2019. She entered the Voices of South Africa Opera Singing Competition last year but did not win and decided to give the online format a shot this year.
“I got to know about the competition years ago through friends who were taking part then, but I was never interested because I was studying biotechnology at the time. Last year as a first year music student, my voice teacher, Professor Cupido Conroy, suggested that I enter the competition. This year I decided to enter because I wanted to do something exciting and challenging since I was not singing anymore because of the pandemic,” she said.
Yolisa said the competition had given her a reason to practise her singing again and if she won, it would help her to financially assist her unemployed mother. She said winning the competition motivated her to work harder and reassured her of her decision to pursue music.
She also auditioned for the Wilhelm Stenhammar International Music Competition earlier this year and was selected to go to Sweden in June for the qualifying rounds, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“I’m very excited for the scholarship and working with Dominic Wheeler has been on my wish list. Therefore, I’m really grateful and excited to be part of the course this year,” she said.
For her online clip, Yolisa submitted a piece called, Caro Nome, which means dear/beloved name, from the opera Rigoletto written by Giuseppe Verdi. She also enjoys listening to jazz, hip hop and gospel but classical and opera music is her first love.
Mr Madlala said he was proud of the country’s operatic talent.
“Despite the many challenges facing South African singers at the moment, including basic needs like food and internet (access), all singers managed to put on a great show of their talents. Our distinguished and international jury was very impressed by the level of musicality and quality of the voices. The online competition is done in partnership with the Anglo-French opera festival, Les Azuriales Opera. They have a track record of many years and their work focuses on finding outstanding young artists from around the world and making a significant difference to their early operatic careers.”
Voices of South Africa Trust is a non-profit organisation which supports young singers from southern Africa. Mr Madlala founded the non-profit in 2013 based on his experience of taking part in Les Azuriales’ Young Artist Programme. Subsequently the two organisations have worked together to bring many southern African singers to attend the UK’s conservatoires, participate in the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists programme as well as other young artist programmes in Europe.