Soprano Pretty Yende sometimes hankers after the climate of her native land.
“The sun! I miss the sun!” the South African singer exclaimed when asked for what home comforts she felt nostalgic.
If she has spent time away from Rainbow Nation daylight of late, Yende has been radiating some luster of her own. In January 2013, she made a buzzed-about debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, taking on the role of Countess Adele in Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” with just a few weeks’ notice after another singer fell ill. Several years before, she had walked away with all the main prizes at the Belvedere Singing Competition in Vienna. She has performed at the renowned Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where she lives.
This season she has been back at the Met, performing Pamina in “Die Zauberflote.” With roles lined up around Europe, she made her Carnegie Hall debut last month.
And now she is singing in Washington. On Nov. 6, Vocal Arts DC will present her in recital at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
Speaking by phone from New York last month, the 29-year-old Yende traced her singing career to her childhood in Piet Retief, in the South African province of Mpumalanga. She grew up singing in church and at home. “Music was always in the house,” she said. “And I remember every night, after supper, we used to have music in the family room — we would sit around the fire and sing.”
After falling in love with opera thanks to an encounter with a British Airways television ad that sampled Delibes’s “Lakme,” Yende began serious vocal training in Cape Town.
Later, she attended Teatro alla Scala’s Academy of Lyric Opera and made her professional debut as Micaela in “Carmen” in Riga, Latvia. Despite her training and experience, it took nerve to accept the Met’s “Comte Ory” invitation. It took even more nerve to get through the first night: In an early moment onstage, she tripped and took a bad fall. But she righted herself and pulled off the performance, earning frenzied applause at curtain call.
The whole experience left her “very pleased and very amazed” at the extent of her own inner resources, she said. “I never knew I could be that courageous. I never knew that I could learn so fast. I never knew I could take so much pressure. Even after I fell, a few seconds in, I could still get up and sing and have that embrace of the music by Rossini.”
Not surprisingly, there will be some Rossini on her program at the Kennedy Center. Also on the agenda: pieces by Donizetti, Debussy, Liszt and zarzuela composer Jeronimo Gimenez. “I love singing recitals,” Yende said. A given opera might allow her to present a single aspect of herself, she said, but a recital “allows me to showcase more of me.”
U.S. author Herman Melville famously worked as a customs inspector. But the United States is not the only country in which an imports-scrutinizing institution has met creative genius. The Dominican Republic’s General Directorate of Customs (known by its Spanish-language acronym, DGA) has amassed a distinguished collection of visual art.
A subset of that collection of more than 600 pieces has landed at the Organization of American States’s Art Museum of the Americas. The exhibit, “Modern and Contemporary Art in the Dominican Republic: Works from the Customs Office Collection,” is on view through Feb. 1, 2015.
According to Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) director Andres Navia, the Dominican collection was launched by Miguel Cocco, the country’s former customs director, to improve his agency’s reputation and morale. The collection was not cobbled together from canvases that customs agents confiscated at ports or borders, Navia says, but assembled through acts of acquisition and patronage, as any connoisseur’s trove might be. Cocco “saw art as a way to raise the [customs] institution to the highest level,” Navia said.
Some of the exhibit’s 30 artworks tend toward Cubism or Surrealism; many are vividly colorful. Shades of Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy and other well-known names seem to hover around a painting by Eugenio Fernandez Granell, a Spanish painter who lived in the Dominican Republic after the end of the Spanish Civil War.
Maria del Carmen Ossaye, the exhibit’s Santo Domingo-based curator, said in an e-mail that Granell (1912-2001) influenced the development of modern Dominican art. As for the exhibit’s other works — including pieces by Jaime Colson, Yoryi Morel and Dario Suro — all are very different, in her view, although she noted that a number of the artists treated black and mulatto figures and “the light of the tropics.”
Ossaye says the geographical situation of the Dominican Republic has made for “historical interactions that have shaped it as a crucible of different cultures, creating a cultural wealth and diversity confirmed and reaffirmed by contemporary art.”
Any aesthetically minded customs inspector would surely agree.
Pretty Yende Thursday at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.
Modern and Contemporary Art in the Dominican Republic: Works from the Customs Office Collection On view through Feb. 1 at the Organization of American States’ Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW. Visit amamuseum.org.
Wren is a freelance writer.