It’s nail-biting for tenor Thando Mjandana – one of the five South Africans of 34 candidates chosen from 800 to compete in Placido Domingo’s Operalia, which takes place at Artscape from 30 October to 5 November, 2023. Thando gives a recital in Bristol in the UK at 3.30pm on Sunday, 29 October, and then has to hot foot it to Heathrow to board a plane to arrive the next day – the day the competition begins.
Luckily Thando is in the second semi-final, which takes place the next day, so there will be time for some private coaching from one of the three repetiteurs who have come from abroad to work with all 34 contenders for the two titles – male and female – which bring with them prestige; puts them in the company of other Operalia winners such as Pretty Yende and Levy Sekgapane, and also opens the door to the world’s stages.
Jette Parker Programme
Not that Thando Mjandana is a stranger to some of the world’s stages and the world’s foremost artists. As a member of the illustrious Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House, he was in good company … Joyce di Donato and Antonio Pappano and sang in productions of Samson et Delilah, Lohengrin, Theodora, Ariodante and La Traviata.
He has also sung in the Waterperry and Longborough Opera Festivals in the UK, in Bern with the Dutch National Opera, the Welsh National Opera and in Teatro Madrid. Amongst his titles is the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Award on the Voices of Black Opera singing competition, which he won in December last year. He was a finalist in the Guildhall Singing Competition the year before, and he was an opera student at the Guildhall in London following his graduation as a student of Patrick Tikolo from Opera UCT.
He also sang in Carmen and La Traviata with Cape Town Opera, accompanied by the Cape Town Philharmonic, two of the three hosts with Artscape of the Operalia competition, which is supported by the City of Cape Town and presented by Rolex.
Thando grew up in Cape Town, surrounded by music because his mother was a singer in local choirs and music in his church was part of life. “I was 13 or 14 when I discovered that I could sing, and I joined the choir at Zola Business High School. My mother was my greatest influence. She guided me along the way, and will be accompanied by my father and two sisters and brother at the competition,” he says.
Thando has been based in London for the last five years and can’t wait to come home again for Christmas with his family. “Living in London is very different to living in Cape Town and there have been challenges in the last five years of course, often to do with the weather! I have made some very good friends here, many expatriates and others from all over the world.” He also spends some of his spare time at gym, needing the balance from a stressful performer’s life.
“Being part of the Jette Parker Programme was unbelievable. I gained so much experience in so many productions and learnt so much from people like Di Donato, Pappano and Elina Garanca.
“It’s been an amazing learning curve and I have learned one very important thing … if I want to stay in the business a long time, I need to work hard and that’s not hard because I love what I am doing.”
Cape Town will be holding thumbs for you, Thando, and the rest of the South Africans – Nombulelo Yende, Siphokazi Molteno, Luvo Maranti and Sakhiwe Mkosana. We know you will keep the name of Cape Town and its world-class cultural organizations flying high.
The competition’s quarter finals take place on 30 and 31 October; the semi-finals on 1 November and the finals on 5 November with the CPO conducted by Placido Domingo and Kamal Khan.
Who: Tenor Thando Mjandana
What: Placido Domingo Operalia competition