South African opera songbird soars around the globe
South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza has sung in some of the world’s greatest opera houses, and gave a rare homecoming performance in Johannesburg in March 2017.
Pumeza Matshikiza fortuitously stumbled upon opera as a child living in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Hearing a recording of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro while scanning for stations on a portable radio, it was love at first listen.
“I was just transfixed,” Matshikiza told The Australian newspaper in 2016, “I thought, ‘what language are they singing in, how people can sing like this, are they angels?’”
Following her dream to imitate those voices, a teenage Matshikiza began to find her voice while singing in church choirs.
As a student at the University of Cape Town, she collaborated with South African-born composer Kevin Volans on a number of his works for the Handspring Puppet Theatre. It was Volans who urged her successful application for a young artist scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London.
Her rise in the world of opera
In a 2014 interview with The Guardian newspaper, Matshikiza said her varied education in music and opera is “driven by the curiosity of how the human voice works to produce these beautiful sounds”.
Matshikiza sang her first lead role with Germany’s Stuttgart State Opera Company, and then later performed around the world in a variety of productions including Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at Milan’s famous La Scala opera house, and as Mimi, the lead soprano, in Puccini’s La Bohème, a role made famous by some of opera’s legendary sopranos including Maria Callas and Angela Gheorghiu.