The Edit

Pretty Yende, trailblazing soprano

Belong to the legend
From small-town South Africa to the world’s greatest opera houses: Pretty Yende’s story is the stuff of fairytales. Discover the chance stroke of inspiration that led to her trailblazing career, and the powerful mission that motivates her every day.

When opera singer Pretty Yende is told something can’t be done, her first thought is “why not?”


“Nothing is impossible. All you need to have is a little, little, little faith,” she says, squeezing her finger and thumb together. “The world can catch up.” 


When you know Pretty’s life story, you’ll understand why this South African soprano is so determined. 

A flame ignites

Pretty was born and raised in the township of Mkhondo (then called Piet Retief) in South Africa’s east. In 2001, when she was 16, she heard a snippet of the Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé on a television ad for British Airways. Entranced, she went to her high school teacher the next day to ask what it could have been. Opera, he said. 


“My first question was, ‘Can human beings do it?’ because it didn't sound like anything I'd known. He laughed at me, of course.” 


Her teacher told her she’d never sing like that, but Pretty insisted on being taught. At that moment, she knew what she would do with her life. 


Everything changed. I was alive before 2001… a happy teenager in a loving household. But when I heard those sounds, when I heard that music, it’s like somebody turned on the light. It was like, now we can live. And I couldn’t look back.

Pretty Yende

A powerful force

Pretty was a singer from birth, at home with her family – and in church, on instruction from her beloved grandmother. 


“I was very timid, but of course I didn't want to disappoint my grandmother. So I would reluctantly stand up and sing the hymns when I got to church. But what was intriguing for me was not so much the singing, but the reaction I saw from the people. I fell in love with that. When I saw joy in their faces, I loved that more than the singing.”


It makes sense, then, that she describes performing as ‘ministering sound’.


“It’s never been about fame or fortune. It’s the music. It’s about my soul and yours, they go to a higher place. They have a dialogue. There are magical moments in that space that happen, that the camera cannot capture. It goes beyond the black and white notes, it goes beyond our intellect. You could be going through something difficult, and I sing, and that glimpse of sound… makes you forget hardship in a second.”



Perpetual motion

Pretty has now ‘ministered sound’ in all the world’s great opera houses, from La Scala in Milan and London’s Royal Opera House to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. In 2023, she performed at the coronation of Britain’s King Charles III. But when asked to name the moment she is most proud of, she immediately recalls the day when, as a curious 16-year-old, she heard opera for the first time.


That point is the most important, because if I hadn’t persisted in asking questions and saying ‘teach me’, anything else that followed would have been impossible.

Pretty Yende

With her second solo album out now and a busy schedule of concerts across Europe and the United States ahead, Pretty is taking her own advice to keep on moving.

“Keep going forward. Never give up, no matter what. No matter what. There is never a perfect time to do the impossible. Circumstances can never be perfect. This world is not perfect. Nothing will ever be comfortable. Nothing ever grows, actually, in a comfortable place. So push through and never give up, no matter what.”

Pretty Yende and her inspirational journey are part of our Belong to the Legend series. Look out for more unique stories coming soon.