Mpofu is UCT's rising opera star

08 July 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Soprano singer Noluvuyiso Mpofu, who was placed second in the 35th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition, is the latest in a crop of UCT opera students and graduates who have excelled on the world's stages.
Soprano singer Noluvuyiso Mpofu, who was placed second in the 35th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition, is the latest in a crop of UCT opera students and graduates who have excelled on the world's stages.

The Belvedere Singing Competition has been a springboard to international opera careers for UCT alumni. This year's Belvedere final showcased 16 singers from nine countries. Four were South African singers.

Mpofu's second prize of €3 500 was donated by Jan Meulendijks and Bart Schuil. She also received the Prize of the Audience of €2 000, which was donated and presented by Dr Madeleine Kim from South Korea.

Mpofu, who performed È Strano…Ah, Fors'è Lui…Sempre from Verdi's La traviata, enjoyed the evening.

“It was very tough. Everyone sang their hearts out. When the competition is that tough one is a bit sceptical, but I was hopeful. I knew I was just going to do my thing because that is my favourite aria,” she said.

Mpofu was born in Port Elizabeth and became interested in opera while at high school. After entering school eisteddfods, she realised she wanted to pursue a career in music.

“I remember I sang an aria from The Magic Flute. I was provincial champ in Port Elizabeth and second nationally.  I realised I had something and I decided music is my passion. I didn't see myself doing anything else so I came to UCT and studied music,” said Mpofu.

She is currently completing the last year of the Cape Town Opera Training Programme. The two-year training programme gives graduate singers a platform to refine their technique before they launch into professional careers.

The Belvedere

Mpofu, who was a finalist in last year's Belvedere competition, spent months preparing by perfecting her chosen arias (“I wanted something different to last year's repertoire”). But health almost tripped her up.

“Two weeks before the competition I had flu and I didn't think I'd be able to do it.”

In the week of the preliminary rounds she wrote to Professor Kamal Khan, director of the UCT Opera School, to say she was withdrawing from the competition. At the time Mpofu was in Vredenburg doing community work with Cape Town Opera. But he insisted the show should go on.

“In these competitions you have to make sure you are 100% and giving your all. Prof Khan told me to stay warm and come back because so many people were rooting for me,” she said.

Back in Cape Town Mpofu dosed herself with honey and ginger to preserve her voice. She swept through the semis and into the finals.

“I didn't think I'd done that well in the semis but I told myself I'm going to give it my all in the finals.”

UCT journey

It's been a long but rewarding journey for the young opera star.

For over 90 years UCT's Opera School has offered intensive training, coaching and personal supervision to talented emerging artists, preparing them for both the local and international stages.

“When I first got to UCT my voice was very small and I didn't have any technique or background of music in terms of opera,” said Mpofu.

She spent a year in the foundation phase sharpening her understanding of music. Her perseverance and dedication saw her land a first-cast role in La traviata. People started recognising her talent and La traviata became her favourite opera.

“It's what made me fall in love with opera, so performing it at the beginning of last year was a dream come true. And I guess I needed people to recognise what I have,” said Mpofu.

She is hoping her achievement in the Belvedere competition will open doors. In the meantime, she'll be working hard on her repertoires and learning foreign languages.

“From my side I need to work hard … and do the small things that will make me extra special”

The next few months will be a busy time as she prepares for her upcoming roles as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), a collaboration between UCT and Cape Town Opera, and as Micaëla in Carmen.  

Khan speaks highly of Mpofu.

“My pride in having watched Vuvu grow from a talented teenager to a young operatic artist of whom the world is taking note, is deep. She is a true success story. No one makes this kind of progress without doing more than is required and without aiming higher than the crowd. To Vuvu I say, 'Brava!'"

Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Michael Hammond.

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