Baritone Musa Ngqungwana (30) has been named by the National Arts Festival as the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Music.
Musa Ngqungwana grew up in Zwide, Port Elizabeth with a passion for performance at a young age, taking part in small theatre productions in the township. Being brought up by his mother and grandmother, Ngqungwana had a rich and interesting childhood taking part in a variety of activities widely ranging from rugby to reading. From primary school he sang in choirs, which pre-empted his career as a singer.
He knew he wanted to better his life and his circumstances of living in a township and reflects: “From a very young age I was driven by my focus not to be a statistic and to achieve whatever was possible. This hard journey has always propelled me to always rise above any challenges, knowing very well that I have crossed harder bridges.”
His first introduction to opera was as a teenager when he saw a 1978 video performance of Die Zauberflote where Sir Willard White played the role of Die Sprecher. He says “I was sold by the notion of a black man doing a major role. The art form was a novelty to me and I was fascinated by the German language, the costumes, the singing and scenery”.
After school Ngqungwana studied Building Science at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for one year, until he pursued his passion for music. While his grandmother had hopes of him becoming a doctor or engineer Ngqungwana felt strongly about studying music.
He continued singing as a distraction from the difficult situation he was in and started an encore ensemble. Through support and encouragement Ngqungwana auditioned for a scholarship at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Opera School. In 2004 he was given a full bursary and his talent was acknowledged. Ngqungwana won his first award in 2007 for the vocal competition held by the university. He gained a Performer’s Diploma in Opera and Bachelor of Music Honours Degree in Performance (Magna Cum Laude) from the University. He then received a scholarship to study at the prestigious opera institution, Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA), in Philadelphia and in May 2014 he graduated with an Artist Diploma.
Ngqungwana has won numerous awards throughout his career to date. His accolades extend from Cape Town’s Schock Prize to Vienna’s International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition, as well as an impressive scope of competitions and prizes by Opera Index in New York City.
Ngqungwana has worked with Opera legends such as Angelo Gobbato, Marco Armiliato, Tito Capobianco and Kamal Khan and many more. He has played numerous roles and his most memorable include the catalogue aria from Don Giovanni as Don Giovanni by Mozart, Figaro in The Barber of Seville by Baudron and Puccini’s Turandot where he played the role of Ping.
Currently, Ngqungwana is working on his debut role as Colline with the Washington National Opera; Zuniga with the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo and Friedhold with the Washington Concert Opera. He has begun planning for his performance at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for his 2015 debut performance, he elaborates on the festival saying: “I always longed to be part of the festival, but not once did I ever think I would be one of the people who would receive this prestigious award. Therefore this is very humbling for me”.
Spending most days rehearsing for performances and nights studying his notes and reading the score for the next opera, Ngqungwana spends the rest of his time exploring the cities he performs in. He loves reading and reflecting through writing and has recently written his first memoir Odyssey of an African Opera Singer. From Zwide Township to the World Stage.
Ngqungwana, who is currently based abroad performing in The United States and Europe, thanks Standard Bank for his award. “It is a recognition from home soil that folks are watching us and wishing for us to rise to ever great spheres of achievement. I am grateful to Standard Bank for their generous support of artists, they have been doing this for 30 years. In this global decline for the support of the arts, we are incredibly fortunate to have such an esteemed bank and organisation continue investing in the festival, ensuring that we continue growing and ploughing as South African artists the world over. I thank you Standard Bank from the bottom of my heart.”
The other recipients of the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist Award are Luyanda Sidiya (Dance), Kemang Wa Lehulere (Visual Art), Christiaan Olwagen (Theatre), Athi-Patra Ruga (Performance Art), and Nduduzo Makhathini (Jazz).
Awards Musa Ngqungwana has won:
In 2007 he was the winner of the Schock Prize for Singing at the Baxter Theater in Cape Town. He then went on to win for his role as Ping at the International Turandot Competition organised by the International Institute for Opera and Poetry. In 2010 he won the WBHO/Jan Kaminski Award and in 2011 he was the recipient of The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust. He was a finalist and awarded the prize of “Die Zeit” at the 29th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition in Vienna, Austria. Ngqungwana won the Cesare Santeremo/Dr. Campbell Award from Opera Index in New York City, the 2013 Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and in the same year the recipient of the Lissner Charitable Award from the Licia Albanese/Puccini International Vocal Competition. In 2014, Ngqungwana was a nominee for the Marian Anderson Award at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. He also won the Giulio Gari International Vocal Competition, and came fourth in the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition, as well as the recipient of the Apollo Music Trust for two years running.
Roles Musa Ngqungwana has performed:
Leporello in Don Giovanni, Dr. Dulcamara in L’elisir D’amore and Don Profondo in Il Viaggio a Reims, as well as Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro with the University of Cape Town Opera School. Other performances include L’hotelier in Manon with ArtsCape Opera House, Ping in Turandot with Teatro Filarmonico (Verona), Priest in Cunning Little Vixen with ArtsCape Theater. Further Roles include the Governor’s Servant in Garwood’s Scarlet Letter with Merriam Theater, Talpa in Il Tabarro with Perelman Hall at the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts. With the Helen Corning Warden Theater, he sang Count Waldner in Arabella and Commendatore in Don Giovanni with the Walter K. Gordon Theater at Rutgers. Ngqungwana has sung Lorenzo in i capuleti ed i montecchi and Zuniga in Carmen with the Crested Butte Music Festival; as well the four villains; Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Mirakle and Dappertutto in Tales of Hoffman with the Academy of Vocal Arts. Musa has also sung the title role in Verdi’s Oberto and Gremin in Eugene Onegin; Sancho Pança in Massenet’s Don Quichotte; Samuel in Un Ballo in Maschera and Le Comte des Grieux in Manon with the Academy of Vocal Arts; and IL Gran Sacerdote in Verdi’s Nabucco with Opera Philadelphia. Other performances include recitals at the Ravinia Festival in the summer of 2013, as well as concerts with the Kirsten Flagstad Festival in Norway.
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