Listen: Njabulo Madlala on BBC Radio 3 In Tune
The South African baritone discusses his journey from a small township to singing the role of a whale at the ROH.
28 November 2013 at 5.08pm | Comment on this article
Njabulo grew up in a small township just outside Durban in South Africa, and was introduced to music by the Zulu songs that his grandmother sang to him. He came to London as a member of a choir and was encouraged to audition for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GMSD). ‘When I auditioned, I couldn’t read music and had never sung an aria or a song,’ he says. ‘I took a choir piece and just sang a line from the bass!’
He went on to gain a Bachelors of Music (Hons) and Masters Degree from the opera course at GMSD, and subsequently won the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Competition in 2010. ‘No one in my community knew that you could go and make a career out of music, so it has been a wonderful surprise for my family,’ he says.
Njabulo is currently in rehearsals for a new Royal Opera commission by Julian Philips entitled How the Whale Became, in which he will sing the role of the Elephant, the Whale and God. Watch the trailer.
‘It’s a beautiful story that looks at how the animals became and what their dissatisfactions were,’ he explains. ‘For example, when I play the Elephant he is really distressed that he is bald and doesn’t have the hair that the polar bear has.’
During In Tune, Njabubo performed Go Lovely Rose by Roger Quilter and a selection of traditional African songs, including Qongqothwane (The Click Song), from his album Songs of Home. He was accompanied by William Vann on the piano.
The full broadcast is no longer available, but you can listen to a podcast of the extract on the BBC website.
The production is generously supported by the Taylor Family Foundation, Mrs Lily Safra, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund, The Lord Leonard and Lady Estelle Wolfson Foundation and Britten-Pears Foundation.