For years, Vocal Arts DC has been championing promising singers, such as the now-celebrated artists Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson and Matthias Goerne. On Thursday night, the group put another winner in the spotlight — soprano Pretty Yende. She performed with American pianist Kamal Khan, who now lives in her native South Africa, at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
Yende has been making waves in the concert world, making a buzzed-about debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera last year and her Carnegie Hall recital debut last month. She’s now back at the Met as the cover soprano for the role of Pamina in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Yende has a powerful and versatile, yet controlled, voice that can reach to the stars. Her confident and agile coloratura perfectly suited zarzuela composer Gerónimo Giménez’s “Me llaman la primorosa” (“They call me exquisite”) and Vincenzo Bellini’s “Oh, se una volta sola” (“Oh, if I could see him again”). And Yende’s voice has a deeply luminous tone. In a set of atmospheric chansons by Debussy, including “Beau Soir,” she captured all of the tonal innuendos of the French text, delivering it with tempered, rather than unbridled, expression.
In Liszt’s “Benedetto sia ‘l giorno” (“Blessed be the day”), Yende’s sprinting leaps and chromatic descents were met with Khan’s strongly supportive prelude, interlude and postlude, further emphasizing — in German lieder fashion — the soaring emotions in her vocals. As a whole, the performance showed the power of Yende’s gorgeous voice in dramatic operatic style. Now it would be interesting to hear her in a more intimate song recital.
The only hitch to the evening was Yende’s last-minute changes to the first half of the program, leaving many in the capacity audience at sea as to what she was singing.
Porter is a freelance writer.