Just over a year ago opera singer Ipeleng Kgatla was pleading with Twitter to aid her in raising funds for a trip to Paris, France where she was auditioning at one of the world’s renowned music institution.
Now the 23 year-old is preparing to leave for Germany after being accepted at the Staatliche Hochschule fÜr Musiek und Darstellende Kunst Mannheim to do her Master’s. Fortunately this time she didn’t need to retweet videos of her live performances to convince people to donate for her travel, after family and friends raised the money.
She will leave the country for Germany next month for the summer semester.
“I’m a bit scared but mostly excited. I can’t wait to get there, work, see what I become and what my life becomes.”
The public’s generosity helped raise close to R17 000 in 2016, which helped cover her return flight ticket, accommodation and other expenses during her stay in Paris. “People just started retweeting and asking me to send my banking details. Other people began tagging big organizations to lend a helping hand. No big organization came forward and said ‘here’s a lump sum of money’ ”-it was all donations from individuals Kgatla tells me.
Though the audition at Académie Opera National de Paris, which was last January, was unsuccessful the 23 year-old learnt from the experience.
“It’s an interesting career. When you get rejection, it’s a sign that you need to work harder, you need more time and you’re not ready, it does not mean you’re not good. With this career and this journey, you don’t just wake up and you’re the big opera singer in the Met, singing the best opera roles ever, no! People who are out there and who are the best singers are still training- it’s not just a couple of years, at least 10 years. I’m not even close, there is progress though,” with astuteness beyond her years, she speaks.
On her return to the country from France, she spent a day at home in Tembisa but was in Cape Town the following day in the training room doing voice exercises. “Even the likes of Pretty Yende, Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Cecilia Bartoli still take lessons-so who am I?”
Unlike the typical scenario where a young hopeful artist has to convince their parents about the career they want to pursuit after schooling, Kgatla’s family has been supportive. Indecision had gripped Kgatla about her future during her matric year in 2011 but a chat with her father put her at ease. “My dad was like ‘No Ipeleng, if you were to do something that you love, what would that be?’ and I remember telling him, and he said I should study opera. He encouraged me to go find out more about music.”
She studied Vocal Art at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2012 and completed her Btec in 2015 and went to UCT last year for her Honours. She completed her dissertation last year.
She’s got what it takes to be one of the greatest singers in the future according to Patrick Tikolo who trained Kgatla at UCT.
“She just has to work on a few technical aspects like any other student in the program. Her face lights up on stage and somehow has a way of engaging the audience.”
She was part of the La Cenerentola opera together with UCT last September. The play is basically the Cinderella story in Italian and Kgatla played the role of Clorinda, a solo, one of the step-sisters in the story. The last few months has seen Kgatla perform on several stages, which some of her idols have graced.
Cape Town opera group The Celestial 12 asked Kgatla to be part of the group’s tour of France from September to mid-October. She got the gig through a friend who asked if she could fill in for one of the ladies in the group. “It was a great experience working with the group and with Opera de Lille on Cosi Fan Tutte.”
One cannot shy away from being compared to one of South Africa’s best exports in Piet Retief-bred Yende, if you’re a black female opera singer on the rise.
“She made it. What she’s done gives up hope that it can be done…she studied at UCT, so our stories are similar you know,” quips Kgatla.
US singer DiDonato is also another singer she admires
“She’s a soprano and just the best. She has a vlog (a video blog) where she deals with young artists and the problems we face. She’s so helpful and very genuine.”
Kgatla wants to grace stages such as The Vienna State Opera, La Scala, and The Metropolitan Opera House in the next 10 years.