By Sigurd Neubauer
The South African tenor – who regularly performs with some of Europe’s top opera companies – has developed a professional expertise in the operas of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) but is quickly expanding his repertoire as he will be performing Vincenzo Bellini’s (1801-1835) La Sonnambula at the upcoming season at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich, Germany.
The tenor Sekgapane, who initially wanted to become a professional soccer player but failed a tryout in his native South Africa as a 16-year-old, has since distinguished himself as an in-demand interpreter of Bel Canto opera.
The principal composers of Bel Canto – which means beautiful singing in Italian – are Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), Bellini, Rossini, and Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842).
Levy Sekgapane grew up singing in church choirs. Photo credit: Courtesy
Sekgapane had initially been intimidated by Bellini's I Puritani, but was forced to learn it in three days; he successfully performed it in Paris
He’s currently preparing for his favorite opera: Rossini’s Otello, which is rarely performed. But singing Bellini’s final masterpiece – I Puritani – “was a dream of mine,” the tenor explains, which he performed in April at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, France.
“Performing it was one of the highlights of my career; it is the ‘Mount Everest’ of opera. All the greatest tenors in history, including Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) sang it.”
Yet, the opera had always intimidated him, the tenor explains. But the South African – who describes how he was ‘high on adrenaline’ after starring in Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Italy’s Cecilia Bartoli in Zurich, Switzerland, this past March – had just three days to learn I Puritani.
And he did.
“Everything kicked in and I took a chance. Bellini premiered the opera in Paris in 1835; the Parisians know it very well. Everyone came out to see our performance.” The South African was starring alongside Britain’s Jessica Pratt, who Sekgapane describes as “arguably the best Elvira in the world.”
Sekgapane is currently living the dream in Munich, but his love for music was ignited by his family.
“Music is a huge part of South Africa’s culture and society,” says Sekgapane whose interest in classical music was first sparked by his grandparents who were singers. “I come from a Catholic family and was first exposed to classical music in church where I sang in several choirs throughout my upbringing.”
While pursuing soccer as a youngster, he began taking singing lessons. Next, he learned how to play the piano and studied music theory. From that point on, Sekgapane secured a scholarship to attend The South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town – where his musical education accelerated – before embarking on national and international choir competitions, including to Europe.
Sekgapane is passionate about South Africa’s vibrant opera culture. One of his goals, the tenor reveals, is to introduce opera to South Africa’s general population. He admires how the three tenors celebrated the artform worldwide during the 1990s while bringing in new audiences.
“The three of them have had a huge impact on the masses,” Sekgapane says, adding that he hopes to emulate their success some day.
Starring as ‘Ernesto’ in Donizetti’s operatic comedy Don Pasquale at the Staatsoper Hamburg, May 2022
In fact, Sekgapane won the first prize at Placido Domingo’s OPERALIA competition in 2017.
“Domingo will be traveling with his competition to South Africa this coming October for the first time. With this, we can go even further when it comes to promoting opera to a broader audience,” the tenor says with obvious enthusiasm. He’s also confident in his ultimate ability to break barriers – along with fellow compatriot – soprano Pretty Yende.
Sekgapane recently performed Georges Bizet’s (1838-1875) Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) with the Cape Town Opera. It was his first French language opera, he reveals.
When performing in South Africa, Sekgapane is constantly amazed by how many young people attend concerts. Referring to his friend and colleague Yende, the tenor says: “Our hard work is really impacting how young people are inspired. The world of opera and classical music are in good hands in South Africa.”
Sekgapane may have been passionate about soccer as a youngster, but now he’s all in on tennis. “I am an admirer of Roger Federer and of Rafa Nadal,” a reference the South African is making to two of the greatest male tennis players of all time. In fact, he has long considered Federer as one of his biggest sources of inspiration and even a personal idol. South African comedian Trevor Noah, who has become an American cultural icon in his own right from when he hosted the Daily Show, is someone Sekgapane aspires to acquaint. “I hope to meet with both of them some day,” he says.
During the recent 2023 Wimbledon final, the tenor admits that he was rooting for Carlos Alcaraz against Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard won the tournament, which Sekgapane watched with a friend from home, but the tenor respects the Serb for his appreciation and knowledge of classical music.
Immediately following his performance with Bartoli in Zurich this past March, the South African met Federer’s parents – Robert and Lynette –who had attended the concert. The meeting, Sekgapane reveals, had been arranged through a mutual friend working for the ATP Tour, which is a worldwide top-tier tennis tour for men organized by the Association of Tennis Professionals.
Mrs. Federer is also a native of South Africa.
The South African opera star aspires to acquaint Federer and Noah