Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pretty Yende: Hope For A New Generation of Opera Singers

Quando m'en vo
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I am not often impressed with young singers no matter how much hype is made about them. As a voice teacher, I am usually more aware of their weaknesses than the strengths that agents try to sell.  With every great singer that has come down the pike in the last 20 years, ( René Pape, Diana Damrau, Piotr Bezcala and Elina Garanca among my favorites) there have been too many wines sold before their time, to quote the old Paul Masson advertisement. Many young singers in their mid twenties have developed the musicianship, stage sense, linguistic tools and charisma to prepare for operatic professionalism, but not many have developed true vocal strength of the type required for the demands of an operatic schedule. Fewer still have combined the complete package that promises operatic stardom.  I had a chance to work with another rare voice from South Africa and colleague of Pretty Yende, and I am of a mind to go to Johannesburg and try to find out the secret of these young singers. Whether it is a cultural vocal conditioning (as I think it must be) or something else, it is unusual that I would come across two such amazing singers from the same community in a short time.  To be clear, I have never met Ms. Yende and it is my fervent hope to hear her live as soon as possible. Still, videos do not lie and every video I have seen of this remarkable young woman speaks not only to her unusual vocal strength throughout her extensive range, but a refined musicality devoid affectation, a courageous emotional honesty and a versatile linguistic sensitivity (Admittedly she will need to improve her French and a well-supported pianissimo would crown her already solid technique).

Pretty Yende -Gounod - O Dieu...que des bijours... ah je ris
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What is often not talked about today is vocal strength. Not only strength in the breathing mechanism like many teachers like to talk about but strength in the throat muscles and the kind of balance that yields ideal vocal fold posture. I can say with certainty that this young woman is bound to become one of operas great talents. She is already handling the adulation showered on her with grace and seems to maintain a simplicity that I hope is not altered in the current scheme of packaging modern divas.

Life is full of uncertain curves and sharp turns. For my part, I wish Ms. Yende smooth sailing and I hope that the business will not look at her as an anomaly but will instead learn to understand how such a singer comes to be so poised, refined and vocally ready at such a young age and try to replicate this at the institutions responsible for the development of young singers.

Pretty Yende sings Lehar - Meine lippen sie kussen so heis
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Anonymous said...

I've had the pleasure to perform with Pretty and work with her on operatic projects. She is simply wonderful to work with, much admired and much loved. When clips of her debut t La Scala surfaced on Youtube, people were openly crying with love, joy and pride. We all pray for a smooth journey on her careerpath. And we really love her.

Albert Combrink

Jean-Ronald LaFond said...

Thank you for your comment, Albert! I have had contact with Ms. Yende since the blogpost and she is as graceful a person as she is talented. We all wish her Godspeed!