Local teen turns tragic childhood misfortune into songs of hope through opera

2019-07-19 15:27
Bianca Solomons who was abandoned at birth wows with her opera voice (Photo: Misha Jordaan)

Bianca Solomons who was abandoned at birth wows with her opera voice (Photo: Misha Jordaan)

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Abandoned at birth, Bianca Solomons has grown up to be an accomplished opera singer with dreams of hitting the big time.

“I is opera and opera is me.” This is Bianca Solomons’ tongue-in-cheek motto and it’s easy to see why. Opera is her life – she sings at every opportunity and is in the process of carving a career for herself on the international stage.

Even her dog reflects her love of music: the tiny pooch is called Liedjie (“song” in Afrikaans). Yet even more inspiring than the 16-year-old’s determination to make it in the world of opera is the story of her life.

A remarkable tale of love and acceptance against a backdrop of desperation and abandonment. Sitting beside the teenager is her adoptive mom, Ellen Fouché, the woman who’s cared for Bianca since the day she was born on the floor of a public bathroom.

Hours after her birth, Bianca’s biological mother left her tiny daughter in Ellen’s arms, saying she’d be right back – but she never returned. Today Ellen is the one Bianca calls “Ma”. And although life isn’t easy for the pair, their tight bond and mutual respect make up for the lack of material comfort.

Mom and daughter live in a Wendy house in the backyard of a friend’s home in Bellville, Cape Town, and the little dwelling is often filled with the sound of Bianca’s goosebump-inducing arias. “I started singing when I was five,” Bianca says.

 (Photo: Misha Jordaan)

“What was once just a hobby has become my life.” Last year Bianca earned her provincial and national colours in opera after winning gold at Talent Africa, a competition that offers the cream of the young crop a springboard to the international entertainment world.

Winners qualify for the Talent America competition in New York and Bianca was one of the performers chosen to go to the Big Apple. She scored 80% and 90% in her two rounds and was one of the stars of the show.

But sadly, she couldn’t go to the States. “She won in April last year and Talent America was in May. It would’ve cost R50 000 in total and there was just too little time to raise the money,” explains Ellen, who’s unemployed. But Bianca is philosophical about it. “When the time is right, I’ll go,” she says.

There are other exciting things in the pipeline too – including the possibility of a show in the United Kingdom. Not bad for a kid who had such a shaky start in life. The knock on the door that would change Ellen’s life came on 5 February 2003. A dishevelled young woman was standing on the doorstep, asking for a glass of water and tablets for her terrible headache.

In her arms was a tiny baby, still partially covered in blood. The woman explained she’d just given birth in a public bathroom in nearby Kraaifontein and told Ellen she didn’t know what she was going to do next. “I was worried about her,” Ellen says. “She said she had no home and nowhere to go.” Ellen offered to accompany her to a welfare centre but the woman said she needed to run an errand first.

She handed the little bundle over and said she’d return soon. She never did. After three days Ellen took the baby to the welfare centre, where staff reported the matter to the authorities. A court ordered the child could stay with her while the case was being investigated. Bianca’s biological mother was never found and Ellen, who already had three kids, Ruvaan (now 37), Christine (now 30), Gerrit (now 27), formally adopted the little girl.

For Ellen, hearing she’d have the child forever was wonderful: she too was abandoned at birth so she’s always had a special place in her heart for vulnerable children. “I was born at Groote Schuur Hospital but my mother left me with old people who couldn’t even help themselves,” she says.

“She just left me and took off. Got on a train and went with a man to Durban.” Ellen says the elderly couple went to the police, who found the woman in Durban and brought her back to Cape Town. Her mother put her up for adoption and another couple adopted her. “I obviously had no idea history would repeat itself later,” she says.

Bianca knows all about her own early days. “When I was old enough to understand how I was born and why I was adopted I was like, ‘Okay, at least I have someone who loves and cares for me and didn’t just leave me to die’,” she says. “So it wasn’t a big deal for me.” Bianca was in Grade 4 at Bellville-Noord primary school when the choir conductor noticed something special about her voice.

“She told me, ‘Wow! You have a voice for opera’,” Bianca recalls. “Then the school started using me in interschool competitions.” She was 12 when she took part in her first solo singing contest, Making of a Star, but it didn’t go as well as she’d hoped. “I wasn’t prepared because it was just like, ‘Whoop! Okay, you’re in a competition and you have to go.’ I made it through to the second round but not the final.

“You’re obviously nervous when it’s your first time on stage because there are so many people watching and you don’t know what they’re going to think of your performance. “I sounded like a Barbie doll whose voice wasn’t warmed up properly!” But she’s grown since that day four years ago, Ellen chips in.

Since 2012 she’s been working closely with her vocal coach, Maritza Truter, who’s helped her master the discipline. “I started music because it’s a talent I’ve been blessed with,” Bianca says. “This is why I’m singing opera – not for fame or to show off, but to show people what you can do once you become aware of your talent.”

Bianca is in Grade 10 at Westcliff School of Skills, which focuses on technical and cultural subjects as well as academics, and she already has a manager both in SA and the UK. Samantha Oliphant, her Cape Town manager, has big plans for the star in the making. David Gummers, her English co-manager, is hard at work preparing a show for Bianca in the UK.

But Samantha is tight-lipped about it and says they’ll share more information closer to the time. “There’s quite a bit happening but I like to put my money where my mouth is,” she says. Samantha is also working closely with acclaimed orchestra and singing conductor Jeremy Silver to secure a bursary for Bianca to study music at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“I want to study everything there is to study about music and then pursue a career in it,” says Bianca, who counts opera greats Andrea Bocelli and Maria Callas among her favourite singers. When she’s not singing – which is almost never, according to her mom – Bianca enjoys playing video games, reading, jogging and hanging out at the mall with her friends.

But it’s belting out her favourite tunes she loves most. “Whether I’m at the gym, in the shower or at school, I sing,” she says. “It’s basically my life.”


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