Zwide-born opera star back in town

Thulani Gqirana

WHEN internationally acclaimed bass baritone Musa Ngqungwana comes home, one of the first things on his to-do list is to have a home- cooked meal.

The Zwide artist, who is a third-year resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia in the US, is home for the first time in over two years.

The visit is a little break on his way to Norway next month where he will be performing at the Kirsten Flagstad Festival in Oslo.

The 29-year-old, who will be performing at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth and the Hopefield Country House in Addo this weekend, indulges in purely African delicacies that cannot be found when he is at school or on tour.

“Anything home-cooked is amazing to me when I get home, especially samp and beans, tripe, African salad with some ginger beer.

“And while I can get fish anywhere in the world, there is just something different about the way my mom makes fish. I don’t know what it is, but it’s the best.”

Ngqungwana, who started singing while at Khwezi Lomso Comprehensive School, said while he has gotten used to the food he gets living in hotels on the road, including luxuries like caviar, nothing beats catching up with mom Nontlantla, 49, and sister Amanda, 17, while enjoying the best food he’s ever tasted – his mom’s.

“You even miss those crazy braais we have where white people would wonder if we are cooking for the whole week, and you know it will be finished by that night, maybe with a wing as leftovers,” he quipped.

The bass baritone whose infectious laughter rolls out effortlessly and loudly, said while he has not been home for a couple of years, he keeps up to date with what’s happening in his Zwide township by chatting to his mother and sister via Skype and Facebook.

“We don’t chat daily because of my tight schedule but when I call just to check on her she will tell me all about the births and deaths in the area. Even if I can’t chat to her, I try to at least upload pictures and my statuses on Facebook frequently so she knows what’s happening in my life.”

Ngqungwana is working on a four-year diploma, equivalent to a masters in liberal arts, at AVA. He says while living from a suitcase, going from hotel to hotel, is a lonely life, it has afforded him great opportunities that he appreciates.

“The school is a performance-oriented school that focuses solely on opera. It’s filled with crazy people who are passionate about the craft.”

Ngqungwana has an honours degree in music from UCT and was recently one of six winners of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York, chosen from more than 1500 singers from across the US.

He was also a finalist at the 29th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition in Vienna, Austria in 2010 and won the role of Ping at the International Turandot Competition organised by the International Institute for Opera and Poetry, in 2009.

The musician says coming from the township, it was a little hard for his mother to understand the fact that he wanted to pursue a career in classical music.

“My mother is old school. To her, people went to school to become doctors, engineers or such, because that’s what she knows. That is one of the greatest things that democracy brought us. We were exposed to so much more.”

Ngqungwana fell in love with classical music after he joined the Viola Men’s Chorus, when he was 16, where he first saw a production of The Magic Flute from Mozart.

“I decided right there and then that this is what I want to do. I want to tell our stories in South Africa using this gift that God gave me.”

He doesn’t drink or smoke as he believes that his voice must be clean.

“As classical singers, we carry our instruments around and it’s a sacrifice you have to make.”

Tomorrow, he will be performing with the Viola Men’s Chorus, along with Nonkululeko Nkwiti (mezzo soprano) and Monwabisi Lindi (tenor), at the Opera House, from 7pm.

They will also hold informal workshops tomorrow from 10am until 1pm for schools, music teachers, singers, conductors and local choirs.

Viola Men’s Chorus musical director Makhaya Msizi said they couldn’t let Ngqungwana leave without at least one performance with the choir.

“Viola normally have a programme but I wanted to take this opportunity to show Port Elizabeth the depth of talent they have right here and hope they appreciate it. He was one of my most disciplined and determined students and it shows.”

Tickets for the Opera House show are R50 and available at the door.

The Hopefields Country |House show, which features Liske Potgieter (soprano), Kobus Buys and Gerhard Maritz (piano), starts at 3.30pm on Sunday May 19. Tickets are R80 for adults and R60 for pupils, students and pensioners. They are available from Kobus or Gerhard at the venue, or contact (042) 234-0333.

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