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THANDO ZWANE: OPERA SINGER EXTRAORDINAIRE

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STYLE: Who is Thando Zwane? TZ: Thando Zwane is 21-year-old Ngwane Park native, a South Africa-trained vocal art (opera) student, studying towards a career in opera singing, a last born in a family of musicians; my mother is a former conductor of the Usuthu Mission Primary School Choir, my father (the late former clerk to Parliament Dr Ben Zwane, may His soul rest in eternal peace) was a bass singer of note during his glorious high school days, and my siblings sing for Swazi choirs, one of which is my elder brother Melisizwe who conducts one of Swaziland’s most respected high-school choirs Therisian Choir and the newly-established choir, SD Philharmonic.


I completed my high school at Manzini Nazarene in 2009, but with encouragement from my family I proceeded to do my matric at Metropolitan International College, so I could have an easier gateway towards my studies in opera singing, as they’d come to terms that a life in opera was my destiny. On completion, I proceeded to undertake my National Diploma in Vocal Art at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria campus, where I’ve been for the past three years, and currently doing my last year of studies.

At 21 years, studying towards an art that is often dubbed ‘an art too Western for Africans’, and besides the hint on your love for classical music, and of all possible careers (not in a bad way of course), what would you say prompted you to study towards being an opera singer?
Well, as mentioned in brief above, alongside an insurmountable love for opera music, knowing that my family had my back and literally encouraged me to pursue this love of mine was one of the key influences that spurred me towards my undertaking such a route. Then over and above all, the privilege to have God endow me with the talent and instrument that has enabled to pursue this art.

Now, we believe your rise in this opera singing ladder has been quite colourful, what have some of your highlights been?
Lol, I think for space’s sake may I mention the major ones; just earlier this year I was a runner up in the Amazwi o-Mzansi Africa National Opera Singing Competition, a competition for young Southern African singers founded by the internationally-acclaimed London-based South African baritone, Njabulo Madlala. I’ve also done well in the South African Tertiary Institutions and Colleges Association (SATICA) Competitions, where I scooped first position in 2012, and position two at this year’s installment. Last year I was part of the cast that premiered Phelelani Mnomiya’s opera ‘Ziyankomo and The Forbidden Fruit’, I’ve also sung the title role (Don Giovanni) in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, and sang the principal role, Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s ‘Faust’, and I have also shared the stage with some of South Africa’s leading choirs, including Gauteng Choristers among many others, I’ve also appeared on SABC 2’s Morning Live with Opera Africa, and sang for the South African government top-brass including president Jacob Zuma and so much more.

Impressive, in your growth, exposure and all other dynamics in and around your studies towards becoming a fully-fledged opera singer, and as you accomplished all these achievements, what are some of the major challenges you’ve experienced, what has kept you going against them and importantly, how have you fought against these?
Ill-health can prove a great scare at times, as obviously our instruments being body-based, when a singer experiences ill-health anywhere in their anatomy the voice suffers too, for instance, earlier this year, from February to July I lost my voice, a development which crushed me to the extent of devastatedly having to stop working for one of South Africa’s renowned opera production companies; Opera Africa, a career advancement establishment I had been attached to for about 20 months. But prayer and support from my family and friends helped me recover and in time I started feeling good about myself again. Then I had to start my vocal pedagogy anew; doing scales on a regular basis until my voice came back to where it was and even better than before.

Now, any words of advice you’d like to share with anyone keen on becoming an opera singer?
My advice would be the tried and tested mantra that is focus, coupled with branching in to this trade for the right reasons and knowing why one is branching into it, because there will be days when your resolve as an opera singer or student is tested badly and you must stand your ground. So, focus, focus and more focus!

Care to share, what those keen on hearing you out and attend your recital should expect?
Well, importantly, through this recital I am presenting myself to the Swazi nation, as an individual who after under-going training towards a career in opera I feel now is the perfect time for me to share what I have learnt at music school all this time, an end I intend to share beautifully through this recital, as accompanied by one of South Africa’s finest pianists Eugene Joubert.

Last words
My last words would be to once again invite the Swazi nation to my first ever recital, happening at the Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU), Faculty of Health Sciences Campus, on Saturday, November 3, from 2pm. May I also notify and invite all to a series of opera singing master-classes.

BY THOBEKA MANYATHELA

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