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Thandolwethu Mamba ‘20: Italian Opera and Language Program

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2019

At the Italian language and music summer program "Si parla, si canta" in Arona, Italy, I was surrounded by others who were not only extremely talented but also very passionate about opera.

About the Artist

I am a senior from eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) majoring in Music (Vocal Performance) with minors in Biology and Chemistry. I am a Duke MasterCard Foundation Scholar and a UWC Davis Scholar (I attended UWC Dilijan in Armenia from 2014-2016). Even though I had no intentions of even minoring in Music when I came in 2016, my voice lessons with Susan Tilley (others might know as Susan Dunn) and David Heid, other music classes, e.g. piano and theory, as well being part of the Duke Chorale and Duke Operatic Theater (formerly known as Opera Workshop) gradually inspired me to pursue a major in Music, and this has been one of the best decisions of my life. I started singing in high school in the Swaziland High Schools Choral Music Competition but I wasn’t able to take my first music class until I got to Duke, and haven’t looked back ever since.

About the Project

The project helped me learn a lot about what it truly means to be a musician, especially in the professional sense. It was the first time in my life when I was completely surrounded by others who were not only extremely talented but also very passionate about opera and music in general. This was very motivating in one part, but also challenged me to become a better singer and musician myself, by never being content with where I am as singer, but always striving to become better through improving my skills, technique, and interpretation and expression of the notes on paper by thinking critically about what the composer intended when they set pen on paper.

My biggest mistake in this program was arriving not completely prepared with my music. I had not learned nor memorised all of my assigned roles as I was under the impression that there’d be time to do that at Si parla, si canta. This was particularly embarrassing on my first day at the rehearsal for Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff when I barely knew the music for my role as Falstaff in the fugue at the end of the opera. I was very shocked and vowed to myself that I would NEVER ever show up at a program underprepared with my music as this greatly affected my professionalism and the coach’s impression of me.

“Si parla, si canta” offered me the opportunity to work under and with some of the world’s finest professional musicians and coaches, from whom I learned a great deal. The support and guidance I received from everyone, especially Benton Hess, the founder and artistic director of the program, inspired and challenged me to take my craft more seriously and work towards being the best version of myself whenever I’m on stage.

My next steps are working hard to prepare for my senior recital in the Spring as well as auditions for graduate school in voice after completing my undergraduate education.