When life gets in the way of a good win

Winning pair: Tenor Levy Sekgapane and soprano Pretty Yende mock each other about both being winners of the prestigious Belvedere singing competition.

Tenor Levy Sekgapane, 26, thought that winning the prestigious 2015 Belvedere singing competition for young opera singers in Amsterdam would open all doors as they did for the 2009 winner Pretty Yende. Instead two were slammed in his face.

The August theft of his passport from a German coffee shop stopped him from travelling to London for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Nor could he fly to Mexico for Placido Domingo’s Operalia which showcases the next generation of opera stars.

“I was stuck in Germany for four months without money and couldn’t come home for financial help,” he told me in Cape Town recently. “I had two engagements to fulfil in Germany and might not have received a new passport in time to fly back. But I learnt an important lesson. Never let my bag out of my sight.”

I met Levy at the College of Music where he was rehearsing with Albie van Schalkwyk, his mentor and accompanist, for his March 24 recital at Ireland’s Wexford Festival. This opportunity was one of three engagements, plus a handsome cheque, for his success in the Belvedere. Other prizes included making his debut in Rossini’s comic opera Il Viaggio a Rheims in Barcelona and Essen and to appear as Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia where he discovered that comic opera was his forte.
“We tenors are always worried about our stomachs but you don’t put on weight in comedies.

“On December 31, I was playing Figaro running up and down ladders, flying around the room, throwing things all over the place at the same time as singing a lot. I was totally exhausted, but loved it. Comedies suit my personality and my voice.”
While Levy is grateful for all the opportunities the Belvedere has given him, he is also aware that winning such competitions can only do so much.

“You still have to create a career. That means finding an agent to get engagements, learning the language of the country you’re in (I’m now fluent in German) and building a repertoire. These take time and effort.”

The disciplined Kroonstad-born singer is focused on doing just that. Four years ago, he stopped drinking even an occasional beer. He does not smoke, avoids spiced food that might affect his throat and works out regularly. Yet, in spite of all his debuts abroad, last year he completed his BMus at the college majoring in classical piano and singing. Alas, he was out of town to attend the graduation.

Dream fulfilled

I doubt if there was a dry eye at the free concert on March 7 when conductor Brandon Phillips – at the request of Artscape’s CEO Marlene le Roux – led 74-year- old Reggie Dreyer from his chair to the grand piano finally to perform after 56 years the first movement of Mozart’s piano concerto No 23 with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.
Watching from the balcony where we could look down at the piano, we heard quite a bit of sniffing from those around us. It was painful to think of the injustices carried out under apartheid.

Introducing Reggie to the audience, Marlene said, “We cannot re-make history, but we can make history together and life holds endless possibilities for those, like Reggie, who are prepared to take them.” The concert opened with the CTPO playing Rossini’s overture to “William Tell” featuring those familiar urgent rhythmic passages which could be galloping horses pulling a fire wagon.

This made it an appropriate piece of music to dedicate to our brave firefighters tackling up to 70 fires a day.

Thereafter we were provided with a “taste of the future” with short performances from three young talented soloists – Jordan Brooks (violin), Shannon Thebus (French horn) and a small but confident Qdem Blaauw playing the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21.

The next free concert at Artscape is on June 6. Even without Reggie it should be well worth- while.

Talking practicalities

I hope that one day soon Artscape will toss out those uncomfortable red couches in the foyer which are neither sofas nor chairs. If you can imagine a pregnant chaise longue you’ve got the right idea.
There is this lump in the middle which may have looked “interesting” in a decorator’s catalogue but serves no point except to get in the way.

You can’t sit on it. You can’t lean against it. Or put your glass of wine on it.

Without the lump, the couch could be used by two groups of three people sitting back to back. I noticed at the concert that each couch took up twice as much floor space for half the number of people accommodated.

Racing ahead

What with the Cycle Tour, Epic, Ultra and Two Oceans Half Marathon, lots of sporty people have been going away with leave from their families to train for these major sporting contests.
Some are even competing abroad.

Kathy Finch, a regular member at Run Walk For Life in Constantia, successfully finished the Tokyo Marathon Friendship Run on February 25, thus ticking off all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

She made it her goal to run all five taking place in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York.

No sooner had she completed them than a sixth major was added – in Tokyo. And if it is confirmed that the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon has been upgraded to number seven, she’ll have to mark September 17 on her calendar.

The short end

Harassed mother to her friend: “When my kids text me ‘plz’, which is shorter than please, I text back ‘no’ as it’s shorter than ‘yes’.”