A South African ‘prima donna’ at the coronation of King Charles III
South Africa is a country in which events that are “magical” in nature often take place.
Take the fact that Nelson Mandela was a prisoner on Robben Island for 27 years.
But within five years of his being released, he was installed in the opulent presidential mansion in Pretoria called the Union Building.
One of my most pleasant experiences as a journalist was to be invited to have a private lunch with him there. We were served by a white steward; a man of the same colour as the warders who had tried to destroy Mandela’s spirit at Robben Island, and had failed.
Now, it was Mandela giving the orders: “Please go to my bedroom and bring me the little a bottle on which is written “Natural Tears!” (I heard Mandela politely ask the whiteman who was his steward.)
The instruction was silently obeyed, with no sign, on either side, that anything “unusual” had taken place. Of course, to me as an outsider, it was one of the most magical moments I would ever witness, as a person fated to record the history of my continent. For whilst installed in Ghana writing my pen dry of ink about the struggle in South Africa, I had never imagined that my feet would ever touch the soil of that country, let alone that I would be a guest at the most powerful dinner table in that country.
Again, who would have thought that Mandela, who, as a young man, would have been hastily shown the door if he had dared to go to a whites-only rugby football club in South Africa and asked to be enrolled as a member, would be the person, as President, who would provide the inspiration to a white rugby captain called Francois Pienaar to capture the Rugby World Cup for his country in 1995? Anyone who had suggested that such a thing could ever happen (it did — only one year after Mandela had become President (and had been formally presented with a “Springboks” team jersey numbered “1”) would have been regarded as a fantasist fit only to sent to a mental patients’ home somewhere in the South African “veldt” hinterland.
And now, guess what – a black South African girl, who only a few years ago, would have been deemed fit only to shout rough abuse whilst participating in a “toyi-toyi” dance/march of protest, was the star soprano performer in Westminster Abbey, London, on the solemn occasion of King Charles III’s coronation – the most prestigious event in Great Britain since 1953, and an occasion whose roots reach as far back as 1065 A.D.
The young South African woman to whom the singular honour was accorded of singing for King Charles (and the mammoth global audience that saw his coronation on television) is called (wait for it!) PRETTY YENDE. She is “pretty” all right. But it is to her voice that she owes her fame. She has been recognized throughout Europe, and also in America, as one of the best prima donnas the world of opera has been blessed with.
Pretty Yende was born in the small town of Piet Retief, in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, on March 6, 1985. A product of the South African College of Music, she also studied at the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, in Italy. She has been wowing opera audiences around the world since 2009. Her website, www.prettyyende.com is full of beautiful stories about her, as well as links to her achievements. In addition, www.youtubhe.com will take you to some of her best –performances and interviews, including her performances at the King Charles III coronation.
Yende says she was inspired to learn opera at age 16 after seeing an Airline’s TV advertisement that featured the Flower Duet from Lakmé. She subsequently enrolled at the South African College of Music, where her teachers included a famous promoter of talent, Virginia Davids. Yende graduated cum laude. She followed that by graduating also from the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
Yende won two prizes in the 2008 International Vocal Competition’s-Hertogenbosch: the Prize of the Province of North Brabant, and the Engagement Opera Riga. She also won first prize in operetta and opera at the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition 2009 in Vienna, Austria.
In 2010, Yende won first prizes at three competitions: 1st Vincenzo Bellini International Competition, 1st International Singing Competition of Savonlinna Opera Festival and 6th Leyla Gencer Voice Competition. In 2011, she won first prize at Operalia, held that year in Moscow. The list of her other prizes literally runs into hundreds of words.
In her May 2023 performance at the Coronation of Charles III and Queen Camilla. She sang “Sacred Fire”, a piece written specially by Sarah Class for the coronation.
Ironically for someone brought up in apartheid South Africa, Yende remembers French border police of police brutality and racial discrimination against her. She detailed on social media her experience of being treated like a criminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport on June 21, 2021 while arriving for her fourth La sonnambula performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
She was strip-searched and held in a dark room with all her belongings taken. The French National Police said she had a South African passport without a visa to enter France. But she had presented her residence permit issued in Milan, with which she had always travelled throughout Europe.
As a black super-star, one supposes that she will continue to experience such annoyances, until more blacks obtain fame and thereby force white border officials to become accustomed to their presence in the highest echelons of artists in the world.
BY CAMERON DUODU