Bel canto tenor Levy Sekgapane makes his debut in Cape Town Opera's much anticipated staging of THE PEARL FISHERS at the Artscape Theatre this May. After winning the Operalia award, Sekgapane moved abroad to further develop and expand his career, but he’s never forgotten his South African roots. As we build up to the opening night of this production, Sekgapane shares some of his love for opera and his excitement for this production.
His operatic origin story is rooted in his very musical family: They are the reason he embraced opera at a young age. Drawing inspiration from them, he was captivated by classical music in his teens when he discovered opera through the CDs and LPs that belonged to his grandfather and older brother. In addition to this appreciation for opera ignited by his family, he also regards himself as lucky to have met many wonderful people over the years who have contributed to the development of his talent and career:
“There are so many people who have crossed my path and deposited something inspirational in my life, among them my singing teachers Hanna van Schalkwyk, Kamal Khan and Kobie van Rensburg, and later some of my opera idols who have gone on to become colleagues - like Lawrence Brownlee, Juan Diego Flórez and Gregory Kunde.”
Sekgapane was clearly destined to take to the world stage. His path to stardom revealed itself when he won the prestigious Operalia competition in 2017, which changed his life. “Every Operalia winner will tell you that winning this competition creates many huge career opportunities in the business”, he elaborates, “it gives all of us the stepping stones we were hoping for and working towards, and the chance to go all the way to the top.
After claiming the Operalia title, he moved to Germany, an achievement that did not come without challenges as he found himself a foreigner in a world he could not instantly relate to.
“In the beginning it wasn’t easy, as the German language is very challenging and very difficult to learn and as you know if you don’t have the language, living in the country can be very difficult. Aside from the language, I’ve had to adjust to the culture and the people and I’m now so happy to call Germany my home. It’s a safe country and one that has given me everything.”
Asked if he regards being a professional tenor as the best job in the world, he cautions that he “wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the best job in the world, but it is cool and fun, and it gives me so much pleasure (and a little stress at times too!).” A great, and clearly honest, performer he regards himself as lucky to be a career tenor. It’s a job that’s not only his hobby, but his life, and has opened up the world to him: “I get to travel a lot and explore many interesting places and cultures while meeting new people.”
In getting such exclusive access to the operatic stages of the world, what then would he regard as a career highlight? Sekgapane declares this to be La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli in Zurich this year in March. He goes from this performance-high into the much anticipated staging of THE PEARL FISHERS, and we’re willing to bet that energy will reflect in his performance when Cape Town audiences take their seats at the Artscape this May.
As much as audiences are looking forward to THE PEARL FISHERS, Sekgapane shares that he personally also awaits the first notes with great anticipation, as his last Cape Town appearance was pre-pandemic.
“I kept on praying that once the pandemic ended we’d be able to resume our performances in SA and now the moment has arrived and I am so excited! Also I think THE PEARL FISHERS is the right production for me to present back home. It’s an opera I’ve never done before - I’ve done many bel canto works in Cape Town, but I think now it’s time to come out with something different, fresh and new. It’s going to be great fun.”
He clearly likes chasing dreams and seeking new performance adventures, so where does this young tenor see himself in ten years? “I hope to still be able to sing Rossini at the highest level with a fresh voice”, he reveals. “The voice grows with time, therefore we find ourselves switching to new repertoires every now and then which is what I hope to do too, but I don’t want to lose my Rossini repertoire (bel canto). I plan to sing it forever.”
Considering his approach to the art of opera, and viewing it through the eyes of a vibrant, passionate performer, it becomes apparent that the landscape of opera may be changing, as it starts to appeal to a younger audience. Sekgapane agrees that slowly but surely this appears to be the case:
“I see many theatres in Europe full of young people in the audience. I think they want to experience something new, and opera and classical music could be the right genre for them to explore. We have to keep educating about opera and inviting youth to the theatre.”
So what would he say to someone who’s never experienced the magic of a great opera, to convince them to give it a try? “I spoke to one of my close friends about this topic in Germany”, he reflects. “She said something interesting too: ‘New audiences should first open themselves up to opera both mentally and emotionally. Even if they don’t understand opera, they should completely let themselves go and enjoy the ride.’ It’s a really good way to put it.”
What aids in enticing people of all ages to open themselves up to the charm of opera is the fact that there’s power in music to translate emotion and story even if an audience doesn’t understand the language in which it’s being performed. “Yes, I truly believe so”, Sekgapane agrees, “because music is a universal language that portrays emotions without words - it’s so big.” Though he adds that the music is one part, but the person performing must also do so well, to aid the audience in the narrative exploration. “I’ve seen how this works and my friends always tell me that even if they didn’t understand every word I sang, the acting and the music helped them to understand the storyline.”
THE PEARL FISHERS is an opera production that focuses on a core storyline and George Bizet’s glorious music. It will be onstage at the Artscape Theatre from 10 to 14 May 2023, with tickets available online through Computicket.
Sekgapane will also be onstage at the Baxter Theatre as part of the Cape Town Concert Series on 5 May 2023, with a programme of works by Rossini, Donizetti, Tosti and Delibes. Tickets are available online through Webtickets.