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International Collaborations Bring The World’s First Online Opera Competition On Facebook To Life

London-based South African baritone Njabulo Madlala announces the world’s first ground-breaking Online Voices of South Africa Opera Singing Competition. This is in response to the Covid-19 lockdown, which has affected the arts and resulted in singers not being able to perform live for audiences around the world. Over 2 000 people watched on Facebook as young tenors Katleho Mokhoabane (24) from the Free State and Luvo Maranti (26) from Cape Town won the tenor round of the competition last Sunday. They each won R2 000 prize money.

Last week, operatic tenors from across South Africa were invited to submit one-minute video clips of their singing via Facebook. After listening to all of them, Madlala selected 21 to submit further videos of themselves from their homes lasting no more than 5 minutes, and singing any opera song. From here, 15 finalists were chosen to sing live on Facebook in the final last Sunday.

Two special prizes were awarded to Siphiwe Mkhatshwa (40) from Johannesburg. The prizes were donated by internationally renowned South African soprano, Pumeza Matshikiza who was one of the judges, and another from an anonymous member of the judging panel. The other distinguished members of the panel included Puerto Rican bass-baritone and opera director Dr Carlos Conde, American conductor and pianist Kamal Khan, International British soprano Susan McCulloch and American opera star Mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn. Over 2 000 members of the public voted for the R500 audience prize, which went to tenor Njabulo Shozi (30) from Durban.

Commenting on the competition, Madlala elaborates: “I set out to showcase the tremendous South African operatic talent and the tenors did me proud. 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. Their work focuses on finding outstanding young artists from around the world and making a significant difference to their early operatic careers. Les Azuriales Opera was founded by London lawyer, Sarah Holford and her husband, Mark, in 1997.”

Voices of South Africa Trust is a South African non-profit organisation, which supports young singers from southern Africa. Its director is Durban-born baritone Njabulo Madlala, winner of the 2010 Kathleen Ferrier prize and an alumni and winner of the Les Azuriales Opera competition. He founded Voices of Africa 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 UK’s conservatoires, take part in the ENO’s Porgy & Bess, and participate in the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, as well as other young artist programmes in Europe. Les Azuriales Opera continues to be a partner and offer administrative backing to the competition.

opera singing Sawubona
Caroline Modiba, South African opera star living in London.

Such goodwill is a measure of the recognition accorded to Madlala for his dedicated perseverance in soliciting expertise and promoting the training of hundreds of promising young singers from communities across South Africa. In this light, his Voices of South Africa Opera Singing Competition has attained iconic status among cultural development programmes, both in South Africa and abroad. During the next few weeks, more South African opera singers will compete in further rounds with a grand final of all voice types in four weeks’ time. For competition updated, visit Voices of South Africa International Singing Competition’s Facebook page where the competition will be broadcast live on Sundays.

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