PMB’s mezzo-soprano, Michelle

2011-10-29 00:00

INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed mezzo-soprano Michelle Breedt has never performed with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and says she can’t wait to do so on November 3.

The career of this Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School old girl is one of the great success stories of South African opera­ in recent years.

Since serving her early apprenticeship in Cape Town and Pretoria, Breedt has gone on to appear in operas by Mozart­, Berlioz, Offenbach, Gounod, Massenet, Verdi, Wagner and Richard Strauss, as well as in baroque, bel canto and contemporary works.

In the past 20 years, she has also collaborated with Placido Domingo, Thomas­ Hampson, Renee Fleming, Diana­ Damrau, Nina Stemme, Peter Schreier­, Olaff Bar, among others, and was recently described as “one of the best singers ever” following her appearance in the title role of Die Passagieren for London’s English National Opera.

But it’s a career which could have passed her by had it not been for a teacher at Girls’ High.

“Annette Kerkovius, who studied singing at Stellenbosch, picked me out when I was singing in the school choir. She said I had the potential to be an opera singer,” Breedt said. “We’d always had music in our home. My dad was a minister, so we sang in church. My parents both had great voices, but I’d never considered opera. I hadn’t ever seen an opera. Annette was the catalyst who changed my whole life.”

Breedt, who studied at Stellenbosch University, has fond memories of KZN and Pietermaritzburg in particular.

“In my matric year, I sang in the chorus in a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. I still remember standing on the stage and saying to my mother: ‘One day I’ll be standing on the world stage’.

“I haven’t sung in KwaZulu-Natal since I left home to study, so I’m really excited to be singing with the KZNPO. It’s simply the best orchestra in South Africa­.”

Asked what opera fans could expect from her programme, Breedt said: “The programme I’m going to sing has a lot of my personal favourites in it, including arias from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro­, Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s Nabucco and Don Carlo, Samson et Delila by Saint-Saëns, as well as operetta favourites by Strauss, Sieczinsky and Lehar.

“It will be an opportunity to hear some of the mezzo-soprano repertoire and some of the operettas which few people realise that mezzo-sopranos can sing.”

During the concert, which takes place in the Durban City Hall, she will be supported by the SA Singers and the Durban Symphonic Choir.

Breedt’s appearance with the KZNPO forms part of her South African tour, which includes concerts at the Baxter Concert Hall in Cape Town and the Enoch­ Sontonga Hall in Pretoria.

Patrons, who are being asked to dress in evening gowns and black tie for the Durban concert, can also use the occasion to buy copies of Breedt’s latest CD, Shakespeare Inspired, which was recorded in the Endler Hall at Stellenbosch University in November 2010.

Accompanied by pianist Nina Schumann she sings songs about Shakespeare or settings of his texts written by 18 different composers, including Elgar, Britten and Vaughan Williams.

While in Durban Breedt is also looking forward to sharing her expertise with students during a master class at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Opera School and Choral Academy.

“It’s something very dear to my heart. I know what it was like to start from nothing, having to study and work my way up. I have seen so many South African singers in similar positions and hopefully I can give them inspiration and insight,” she added.

THE KZNPO Spring Symphony Season Gala Finale, featuring mezzo-soprano, Michelle Breedt, takes place in the Durban City Hall at 7.30 pm on Thursday, November 3.

The concert, which will be conducted by Arjan Tien, will also serve as the launch for the orchestra’s 2012 Summer Symphony Season, and the audience is invited to a celebratory party to be held in a marquee outside the City Hall after the concert. Booking is through Computicket.

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