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South African star shines in Simon Boccanegra

PICTURED: Simon Shibambu (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

VERDI’S SIMON Boccanegra opened to the public at the Royal Opera House on Thursday night (Nov 15), bringing its emotionally potent exploration of hatred, love, political treachery, tragedy and remorse to the stage.

In the moving production, South African bass Simon Shibambu sings the role of Pietro, adding to his roster of recent roles including Nino’s Ghost in Semirade, Count Ceprano in Rigoletto and Cesare Angelotti in Tosca.

“It's been great to take on this role. I’ve been a part of the Royal Opera house for awhile now and it's been the same criteria and the same level of roles for me,” says Shibambu. “For me the only difference is that i’m no longer a part of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme but the treatment is always the same.”

The South African is a recent graduate of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, which is designed to support the artistic development of talented singers at the beginning of their career. His involvement in the programme followed his long lasting love of singing, which begun back home in South Africa.

“I’ve been singing since I was about 8 years old,” says Shibambu. “In all the government schools in South Africa, we were obliged to sing in the choir. So I sung as a soprano in the boys choir and as my time went on, I started to enjoy music and I began to take part in many competitions.

“I actually got involved in the programme through a competition I took part in which I won,” recalls Shibambu. “On the panel were some professors from schools here in the UK. So they advised me to apply for a masters in London. I applied and got accepted to the Royal College of Music in 2014 and during that time I took part in a competition in Manchester where I met the director for the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme.

“From there I was encouraged to apply and I was lucky to be chosen to join it alongside four other singers.”


MUST SEE: Simon Boccanegra (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

His time in the programme allowed Shibambu to cultivate his skill as a singer under the guidance of the Royal Opera House and eventually leading to his graduation as a fully fledged soprana who’s been involved in a number of prestigious productions - including his latest in Simon Boccanegra.

“When I take on a role, I really start by looking at the opera; the history of it, what the story is saying, what the composer wants to be portrayed and try to put it into my own understanding of the role,” he says. “When the director starts to work with us, they can then get an idea of how we understand the role.”

Beyond the brilliant cast, staging, set design and more, there is a seamless thread of diversity throughout which has been key to the growth of the Royal Opera House and their bid to embrace inclusion both on and off the stage.

“I think The Royal Opera House is one of the houses that employ a range of people from around the world and I think there is more diversity,” shares Shibambu. “People from different parts of the world speaking different languages - there's people from all over the place here. We’re also seeing more black people come here to sing which is great. Of course there is always ways to improve.”

And improvements have been key to the iconic house as they recently launched their new Linbury Theatre and taken a stand to embrace people of different backgrounds, social statuses and challenge the stereotype often associated with opera and “high vs low culture”.

“I think the Royal Opera House are doing a lot to welcome different types of people especially young people who may not have interest in opera or think its not for them. That’s what's great about have these new and modern productions and having young directors try and change their style, designs and costumes to make it work for young people,” says Shibambu.

And as Simon Boccanegra begins to enchant opera lovers, Shimbabu tells us to “expect a great cast, great singing and a wonderful show.”

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