Ever since she became the first person in history to win the top prize in every category at 2009’s Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna, South African soprano Pretty Yende has been making a name for herself on opera stages around the world.

Where did your journey begin?
It started in my living room in Piet Retief [a small town in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province]. We were watching TV, like any other evening at home, and there was this ad on TV. [It was the classic British Airways commercial featuring the ‘Flower Duet’ from Delibes’s opera Lakmé.] Those ten seconds changed my life.

What did you love about the music?
It’s one of the most beautifully written melodies for two voices. It was something so supernatural that I never believed it was humanly possible. So when I went to my high school teacher and asked him what it was, and he told me it was opera, I said he must teach me. It was like destiny found me. And I’m so fortunate that God gave me the talent to do this.

What was it like when you started singing professionally?
The first time we sang was for a school competition in Durban. It was the most excruciating and fearful event of my life! I was so nervous. But with experience, things got better. And it does get better with time.

How did it feel to win at the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna?
It was one of the most surprising moments. You make dreams and castles in the air but when it happens it’s a surprise to you. And to take that risky route was something so out of the ordinary but it worked out so well. It was a tool for me to go overseas.

Portraits of Pretty Yende for Sony Classic
Photo by Gregor Hohenberg


Why do you think you did so well?
I always say that the reason I probably won is because I wasn’t competing. I didn’t have the pressure of competition with the next person. And this is a lesson for life as well as the career I’m having right now: everyone has greatness. It helps me not to see myself as “better than”, because comparison is a thief.

What’s it like working abroad?
I’m a professional freelance artist singing and performing in New York, London, Paris, and Milan. My journey – I call it a #PrettyJourney – is still in discovering this extraordinary talent that was found inside me and sharing the joy in the process.

Which composer do you enjoy most?
Rossini has become one of my favourite composers and one of my lucky charms. I did my debut in La Scala with Rossini and the big debut at the Metropolitan Opera House was also by Rossini. To go back to Pesaro – a beautiful little town where Rossini was born – was like coming to pay homage to him. It was one of the most exciting experiences ever for me and I was grateful for that.

Where do you enjoy performing?
I’m excited to be going back to New York because New York is becoming one of the most “home” houses for me. Every time I’ll be going there, I’ll be going for two operas in a season. And that usually only happens to A-list opera stars.

Pretty Yende’s album is available now.


What can listeners expect from your debut album?
We’re picking all the highlights. The whole repertoire in the album illustrates and shows the highlights of the big moments. Every moment has been special. We actually had a problem choosing the repertoire because so many moments have happened that could have been on the album. It will hopefully make you smile.

How do you feel about your life right now?
I’m having my own Cinderella moment because every moment that’s happening in my life has come from a place of curiosity, hope, and goodness: hearing this ad on TV, following my heart, and working as hard as I can to make my dream come true.

What message would you like to give to the world?
It’s my dream to tell every child in every village in the world that you can achieve the impossible if you just believe. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings; I’m no better than anyone else. Just believe and continue fighting because every one of us has a treasure within.

Learn more at

John Segar

We use cookies to improve your experience, by browsing this site you are agreeing to this. For more information, including how to disable these cookies, please see our privacy policy