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SA’s opera it-girl is singing her way across the seas

Soprano Brittany Smith will be jetting to New York for a residency which supports a new generation of singers

10 July 2022 - 00:00
Brittany Smith as Susanna in 'Le Nozze di Figaro'.
Brittany Smith as Susanna in 'Le Nozze di Figaro'.
Image: Annène van Eeden

Last week, opera soloist Brittany Smith was named one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans for 2022. As the “It-list” of young people who stand out as stellar creators of the country’s future, it's no small feat to make it onto this list.

Ironically, this isn't the reason I recently found myself on a Zoom call with the 27-year-old.

Our call came ahead of the opening of Cape Town Opera’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) at Roodepoort Theatre. The opera ran for a limited season during June at Artscape Opera House before coming to Johannesburg where it’s expected to run until July 15 in a collaboration between Cape Town Opera and Gauteng-based Sempre Opera.

“It’s like an olden-day soapy with a modern-day twist,” says Smith, who sings the soprano of Suzanna. “It’s one of  the greatest pieces  Mozart has written because it’s so relatable ... in terms of how couples deal with suspected infidelity and actual infidelity.”

This is one of the biggest reasons she encourages audiences hungry for a night at the opera to buy tickets. She also says the cast is exceptional, offering a rare opportunity to attend a production where the cast is dressed head-to-toe in period costume, something Smith says hardly gets done because there's a tendency to make opera as modern as possible.

SWEET BEGINNINGS

Smith started singing opera in 2013 and has been performing for Cape Town Opera for five years. She holds a BMus in opera and a postgraduate diploma in opera performance from UCT.

Her initial plan, however, was to read for an LLB in criminal law. It was her choir mistress at Rhenish Girls' High School in Stellenbosch, Sonja van Amstel, who first introduced her to opera at the age of 16 and convinced her of her natural talent.

But it was only after an outing with a group of her choir girls to see Georges Bizet’s Carmen that she embraced the dream. “I remembered when the curtain rose for act two, the gypsies were dancing on the table and the cast was singing and it looked like the fattest party I've ever seen — all this was happening on stage with an orchestra. I thought to myself, 'I want to do that’.”

Conroy Scott as Figaro and Brittany Smith as Susanna in 'Le Nozze di Figaro' at Artscape Opera House in Cape Town.
Conroy Scott as Figaro and Brittany Smith as Susanna in 'Le Nozze di Figaro' at Artscape Opera House in Cape Town.
Image: Michael Walker

Her recent appearance in Le Nozze di Figaro in Cape Town isn't only memorable because it’s the first time since the pandemic that social distancing was lifted; in a sweet, symbolic act Van Amstel came to watch with Smith’s high school Afrikaans teacher. “It was very special that they were both there,” she muses. 

THE NEXT CHAPTER

As soon as this season ends, Smith jets goff to New York to attend the Guild Hall & Bel Canto Boot Camp Resident Artist Series, a summer residency she's been invited to which supports a new generation of opera singers.

“They're really keen on helping to sing repertoire not only beautifully but correctly,” says Smith. She'll also use the time to network and receive coaching for a new role in L’elisir d’amore which she'll perform on tour on her return. “It’s one of my most beloved operas and a role I've had on my list to sing before 30.”

Smith’s biggest goal is to study towards a postgraduate certificate in education so she can share her knowledge with budding singers. But she also hopes to use her platform as a Mail & Guardian young South African to  inspire singers to seek out opportunities in SA, perhaps starting a small foundation to assist them.

“There's so much that we can do here. If we start small it will gain momentum. [Once that happens], SA could be recognised on the map of the world of opera.” So far, I'd say she's paving the way. 

• Tickets for 'Le Nozze di Figaro' start from R120 and are available via Webtickets


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