Charlotte Mhlongo, 34, is elated that she was awarded The Gus and Nina prize in an online opera singing competition – the first of its kind in the world.
The Lansdowne resident and University of Cape Town (UCT) post-graduate music student, entered the Voices of South Africa International Opera Singing Competition, not really expecting to win anything, but just as an encouragement to herself, as lockdown has hit her craft and livelihood hard.
The competition is an initiative of London-based South African baritone, Njabulo Madlala, in response to lockdown, as singers could not perform live for audiences. Mr Madlala founded the Voices of South Africa Trust, a non-profit organisation in 2013, to support young singers from southern Africa.
Ms Mhlongo, was among the soprano winners and was awarded the Gus and Nina prize, donated by Sarah-Jane Davis.
She grew up listening to artists such as Sibongile Khumalo, and had a love for choral music. She was also part of her school choir, and it was while still in primary school, that her teacher entered her in an eisteddfod, where she took second place in the national competition.
“Receiving a second prize on a national level is quite big and epic, and that kindled everything I am about today,” Ms Mhlongo said.
She swayed from her dream when she obtained a business administration degree and worked in the corporate world for some time, but “something in you calls you back”.
Lockdown has not been easy on her, she said.
“It’s quite terrible. Everything just came to a standstill. I tutor high school pupils the theory of music. Now I don’t have students to teach, and no live concerts. My livelihood is now zero, and I have bills to pay. I am a wife and mother of two beautiful boys, and it did not make sense for us to move back to Nelspruit for lockdown, as we initially thought it would only be for 21 days.”
She said being chosen as a winner came as a surprise.
“I did not think my singing was up to standard when I entered. I did it to encourage myself. The others sounded like gold, and I did not expect to win at all. It was a pleasant surprise.
“I would like to acknowledge Mr Madlala for this, because it is not just about the music, but taking us out of this dark hole. He made a huge impact.
“I am also really grateful to Ms Davis for sponsoring my prize. I hope their lights keep on shining even brighter,” Ms Mhlongo said.
The judges included internationally renowned South African soprano, Pumeza Matshikiza, Puerto Rican bass-baritone and opera director, Dr Carlos Conde, American conductor and pianist Kamal Khan, international British soprano Susan McCulloch and American opera star mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn.
Said Mr Madlala: “Despite the many challenges facing South African singers at the moment, including basic needs like food and internet (access), all the singers managed to put on a great show. Our distinguished and international jury was very impressed by the level of musicality and quality of the voices.