University of Cape Town: UCT opera singer runner-up in international competition

Esihle Nhleko, a third-year University of Cape Town (UCT) music student, was named runner-up at the International BEL CANTO Singing Competition in Germany recently.

The young opera-singing sensation said she is thrilled by the achievement, and knowing that she has made South Africa and UCT proud is the icing on the cake. The International BEL CANTO Singing Competition is a global classical music competition open to talented singers from across the world. The event was held virtually in September.

“I am so proud and honoured by this achievement. I’m also so excited to witness the doors that will open for me as a result of it. As young opera-singing student from the African continent, this means so much,” Nhleko said.

Outstanding performance

Nhleko, a mezzo soprano, put on an outstanding performance during the event. She sang “The Lullaby” by Gian Carlo Menotti, taken from the opera The Consul, as well as Wolfgang Mozart’s “Tu Fosti Tradito”, taken from the opera La Clemenza di Tito.



“It was such an incredible experience and I really enjoyed weaving it together.”

Singers from 15 countries around the globe participated in the event, and Nhleko was the only South African to qualify for the competition. She credits her lecturers at the South African College of Music, Professor Jeremy Silver and Violina Anguelov, for their guidance and for steering her in the direction that secured this accolade.

“It was such an incredible experience and I really enjoyed weaving it together. But I couldn’t have done all of this by myself. Jeremy and Violina supported me every step of the way, and their guidance as we rehearsed for this competition was everything. Not forgetting my pianist, Samantha Riedel, without whom I would be nowhere,” she said.

International stage

Nhleko is no stranger to the international stage. In 2012 she won top performer at the World Championship of Performing Arts, in the Champion of the Opera division. The event was held in Los Angeles in the United States and Nhleko was up against opera singers from 36 countries.

“If I put my mind to something, I commit 100% and give it my all,” she said.

However, achieving the runner-up title in the BEL CANTO competition was an arduous task. She said much of her training took place during emergency remote teaching and learning. This meant that she was at home in KwaZulu-Natal and a long way from Silver, Anguelov and Riedel, which brought with it many challenges.

“Practising online and via WhatsApp was very difficult. During the looting and unrest in July it became even worse because I couldn’t find a suitable place to rehearse and it wasn’t safe to leave the house. But we prevailed,” she said.

Don’t stop

Despite the challenges along the way, Nhleko said her latest achievement is testimony to the fact that hard work pays off and that giving up on your dream should not be an option. Participating in an event of this stature has also reaffirmed her confidence in her career choice and her love for opera singing and classical piano.

And with this achievement she hopes to inspire a long line of African opera singers and pianists to pursue their passion and never give up on their dreams.



“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and if there’s light there’s hope.”

“This achievement means so much to me and it comes at just the right time. I have been dealing with so much anxiety since the [start of the] COVID-19 pandemic. Not being hired for events and not having gigs to perform at has been stressful, but not just for me, for the whole arts industry,” she said.

“But with this accolade I’m moving forward with my head held high. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and if there’s light there’s also hope. We should just never stop believing.”

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