Few classically trained singers can lay claim to a voice still going strong after performing with the same company for more than a quarter of a century. Among them is Cape Town Opera’s Mthunzi Mbombela, whose career in opera dates from the same year as the new South Africa: 1994 brought him from his native Port Elizabeth to Cape Town under the aegis of the then Capab Opera’s Director Angelo Gobbato, to join the company’s Choral Training Programme.
From an early age, Mthunzi found joy in music. “As a child of seven, if I was unhappy, the best way to cheer me up was to let me listen to the singer Mahlathini, who made me want to sing as well,” he recalls.
Later, in the mid-nineteen eighties, he was ‘noticed’, when as a member of a choir in PE the tenor performed an occasional solo.
Then came the day in early 1994 that a chance encounter with three ladies in a taxi led the high schoolboy Mthunzi to audition in PE with Gobbato, who after hearing his rendition of ‘Comfort ye my people’ from Handel’s Messiah arranged for his relocation to Cape Town with several other promising young singers.
After two years in the CTP, Mthunzi enrolled at the UCT Opera School. His studies completed, he had the choice of becoming a freelance soloist, or joining the Cape Town Opera Chorus – and he had no hesitation in opting for the latter. “I enjoy singing solo and chorus equally; the main thing is to keep singing or your voice deteriorates.” True to that principle, he has never ceased to exercise his voice, still singing cameo roles such as Robbins in Porgy and Bess, one of his current favourites on tour.