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Image: South Africa’s Got Talent
What are the chances for a taxi driver with a great voice to move from entertaining his passengers to the opera stage?

I wonder if someone with a tremendous talent who delights himself and a small circle of others with his singing necessarily wants an international audience. That is the question that came to my mind as I read about the fun that a taxi driver in South Africa is having as he sings for passengers.

Stephen Moss writes at the Guardian, “Are opera singers born or made? Are there wonderful natural operatic voices out there waiting to get a break on Britain’s Got Talent? Or maybe on South Africa’s Got Talent, because the reason to pose the question comes courtesy of an opera-loving South African Uber driver called Menzi Mngoma, whose impromptu performances in the front of his cab in Durban have caused a frisson of excitement among those who want to believe that great voices and instant opera stars are all around us.

“Mngoma is a self-taught tenor who likes to belt out arias for his passengers. One of his customers, Kim Davey, liked his singing so much that she posted a video on Facebook. That, in turn, attracted media attention and the 27-year-old Mngoma’s career was launched. He is said to be auditioning for Cape Town Opera. A stadium tour will no doubt follow.

“It generally pays to be suspicious of such stories. The media want to believe in fairytales because they make good copy. Being an opera singer is about more than giving a passable two-minute rendition of ‘La donna è mobile.’ It is singing and acting a role over three or more hours in an opera house twice a week; having the vocal technique to sustain a 20- or even 30-year career; performing a wide range of parts in up to five languages. It is bloody difficult.

“That said, Mngoma does have the spark of something. I played the clip to the Guardian’s opera critic Tim Ashley, and while Ashley said there was barely enough to make a judgment, he thought Mngoma ‘sang “La donna è mobile” perfectly decently and with no strain at the top [of the voice].’ Ashley says that being self-taught is ‘unusual but not completely unheard of.’ …

” ‘You have to be born with talent – that can’t be taught – but teaching will hone that talent,’ says Martha Hartman, the manager of the vocal studies department at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She says that singers do not have to start studying in their teens: the Guildhall has several students in their late 20s, including one who used to be a builder. But she emphasises that natural talent is not enough. …

“If Mngoma wants to be a professional opera singer, the hard work starts now. ‘If you find a singing teacher and if you hone your skills and if you have some classes in stagecraft and movement and drama and all these things that go into being a singer,’ says Hartman, ‘then you might have some roads open to you. But most opera houses and orchestras will demand knowledge of repertoire, and that’s a very big piece of the puzzle: knowing how to learn music and learn a role.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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03russosinger2012

Photo: John Reynolds for the Boston Globe
Guilherme “Gilly” Assuncao reprised his impromptu concert of 2017 recently at Russo’s Market in Watertown.  

Talent will out. Don’t you love stories about talent being discovered in unlikely places? I like to think that it’s irrepressible and will be recognized one way or another. In this story, a sound check by a Brazilian baritone working as a dishwasher in a Massachusetts grocery store went viral and led to an unexpected opportunity.

Cristela Guerra writes at the Boston Globe, “In the produce aisle at Russo’s [in December], a group of customers waited eagerly to hear the golden voice of Guilherme ‘Gilly’ Assuncao.

“[At Christmas 2017], Assuncao was a dishwasher and deli worker at the Watertown market, when he broke into song while doing a soundcheck the night before a holiday concert there — and stopped shoppers in their tracks.

“Videos of him singing that evening at Russo’s went viral and propelled him into the limelight — and into Berklee College of Music.

“ ‘I never expected any of this to happen,’ said Assuncao [said]. ‘It’s emotional in a way that’s hard to explain. It’s just amazing and makes me really happy.’

“Raised in Brazil, Assuncao said he sang in the shower as a boy and loved belting out Whitney Houston songs. … The breakthrough performance at Russo’s [led] him to an invitation to audition and be interviewed at Berklee in the spring. Assuncao began classes at Berklee in August. …

“Assuncao has raised enough to pay for one year of schooling at Berklee so far with the support of fans locally and across the country, and through a GoFundMe page. ‘This place changed my life last year,’ Assuncao said. …

“ ‘Gilly is definitely an exceptional artist,’ said Olga Lisovskaya, a soprano, who sang with Assuncao. … ‘His voice comes straight from his soul and goes straight to your heart.’ …

“ ‘We knew his life was going to change,’ said Tony Russo, the market’s owner. ‘From that moment that he started to sing. It was just a beautiful moment. He’s a great talent and a great personality.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Photo: Jorge de la Quintana
A ballerina admired impoverished acrobats performing at Lima, Peru, traffic lights and decided to offer them a better opportunity. In the photo, members of her D1 Dance Company rehearse.

Once upon a time, a privileged young lady, a ballerina with an international reputation, saw the face of aspirational poverty on acrobats performing in traffic and decided to offer them an opportunity.

Dan Collyns writes at the Guardian, “Vania Masías vividly remembers the first time she saw acrobats somersaulting at a traffic light on a visit to her home city in 2004. She was at the peak of an illustrious career as a ballet dancer in Europe – but before long, she would leave it all behind it to nurture the raw talent she found in the streets of the Peruvian capital. …

“She was so inspired by the abilities of the teenage acrobats she encountered in Lima she set up a pilot project to teach them to dance – not ballet, but hip-hop. …

“It began on the self-taught gymnasts’ home turf in Ventanilla, a tough neighbourhood near the city’s port. Masías arranged to meet them on the shanty’s sand dunes where they practised their flips. The response was overwhelming.

“ ‘I thought I was going to meet with three kids,’ she said. ‘When I arrived, there were more than a hundred kids.’ …

“In 2005 Masías formed the D1 Cultural Association: part dance school, part non-profit organisation seeking to create young leaders and promote positive social change through the arts.

“D1’s social arm, which is 85% self-sufficient thanks to the school’s private classes, works with 7,000 children and young people in the capital and has schools in the Peruvian cities of Ica and Trujillo. More than 100,000 children have passed through the programme over the years, says Masías.

“Among them is Eddy Revilla, who at 13 became his family’s breadwinner somersaulting at traffics lights in downtown Lima.

“ ‘I was earning 300 soles a week [£66/$92] and here in Peru – that’s money! I could help my family and they started to thank me,’ says Revilla, now 25.

“But after blacking out in mid-air doing a somersault, Revilla auditioned for D1, and is now a member of the group’s professional dance company.

“ ‘When we started nobody thought that you could make a living from dance. Now it’s an amazing opportunity for young people,’ says Revilla, who also teaches hip-hop to paying students at D1’s dance studio. …

“Masías acknowledges that only a few of the young students will eventually follow a career in dance, but she says that the act of dancing itself gives them the confidence to transform their circumstances. …

“Masías has encouraged her dancers to embrace their provincial roots through fusing traditional Peruvian and urban styles.

“ ‘It’s in their blood, in their veins,’ she says. Dancers who had been ashamed of their origins ‘now fight to say where they come from,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Sam Borden at the NY Times had a cool story yesterday about a jack-of-all-trades performer who never got much attention — until his ability to mimic the sounds of nature turned him into an overnight sensation.

According to Borden, Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh, 52, finally got attention in March.

“That was when, while sitting at a cafe [in Berlin] checking his smartphone, he saw that Miss Arab U.S.A. — who is a 22-year-old Brooklyn-born Syrian named Fabiola al-Ibrahim — had, for some reason, posted to her Facebook page a video of Mr. Tkachenko-Papizh competing on a talent show in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. ‘This will take you to another world!’ she promised of the link, which leads to about three minutes of Mr. Tkachenko-Papizh vocalizing the sounds of crickets, bird wings rustling, water dripping and hyper-dramatized operatic chanting.

“The show, ‘Georgia’s Got Talent,’ is about what you might expect from spectacles like this anywhere … Yet Mr. Tkachenko-Papizh’s performance, which he began by solemnly intoning, ‘Let us try to feel what the Mother Earth wants to tell us,’ resonated more deeply. …

“The video on Miss Arab U.S.A.’s page has logged more than 70 million views and inspired more than 102,000 comments — mostly unbridled encomiums.”

Despite the change in Tkachenko-Papizh’s life, says Borden, he is not becoming a prima donna. “He lives here with his wife, Larissa Porkhimovich, who is a financial auditor, and their two young children (he also has an older son from a previous relationship), and he said that he is most interested in simply harnessing ‘this gift I have, which has a magical effect.’

“It has taken some adjustment for his wife. ‘I think he really likes testing, trying things,’ she said. ‘It can be a little strange — sometimes I am in the house and I will just hear sounds, like a bird flying, but it is inside. But that is who he is.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Gordon Welters for The New York Times
Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh said he hopes to travel to London soon to work on recording an album. 

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