The life of Pretty Yende

She was born in a South African town and discovered opera from an ad on TV — now she's a rising international opera star. This is the story of Pretty Yende.

The South African soprano

Pretty Yende is one of the few black opera lead singers to have performed at the Paris Opera, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and at the Royal Opera House in London.

She discovered this art while watching a commercial on TV

She wasn’t sure what opera was when she first experienced it through the television. Previously, she was singing at her church and knew she had a strong voice. She was sure that if someone could teach her how to properly sing, she would be able to sing well. Yende had a very happy childhood. When she went to her high school teacher to learn more about opera, she finally learned the name of the art. “I didn't even know it had a name. And then I was like, is it humanly possible? Because it truly sounded supernatural, I could not imagine that a human voice can do that or the feelings that it does. It goes beyond what I know, what I can touch, what we can see. It goes to a place where my soul and your soul, they meet.”, she tells Brut.

Pretty Yende was born in 1985 and grew up in a township

Her parents chose not to tell her about apartheid. They did not think it was important to be taught hatred and what it means to be different at such a young age. She explains, “I am very aware about it and I can see some scars of it that are still in our country. But I'm very fortunate that I had parents who really gave me love and a loving point of view for the world or for anyone who is different than me, and also the possibility to know that I can dream anything, and I can achieve anything.”

In 2010, she started training at the La Scala Academy in Milan

She was the first black student in that theater. “At the beginning, it was more a fear. I was so scared to go on stage and I didn't know whether they would like me, whether they would like my voice… You know, all the wrong things you're not supposed to think before going on stage… I have sung a couple of operas here in Paris and the way the audience reacts, I don't have words because you think they will react this way and they super-exceed my expectations… And so I've just been very grateful that I have had this kind of uniform way of being accepted by different audiences wherever I go.”, she concludes.