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Slice of life: A proposal at the opera

I started singing formally in 2003. Before that I was in the school choir. I came to visit family in Cape Town, and by luck I met people who were opera singers. They encouraged me to audition for the Cape Town Opera, and that is how it started.

It was not always easy. I went to sing in the United Kingdom, at the Royal Opera House in London. I struggled staying there, I just missed home. I was advised by a doctor to take a break and come see the family in South Africa. 

I tried to do something different here. With my twin brother, we started a driving school. One of my first clients was Philbinah. I was very formal, she did not suspect a thing. When she got her driver’s license, then I asked her out.

I started singing professionally again in early 2019. Singing is something I love, I realised I can’t run away from it. But it is not an easy profession. When you’re an artist, you struggle. But she was always there for me. She was my main pillar. She’s also so beautiful.

I bought the ring in Cape Town before coming to Johannesburg for the Viennese New Year’s concert. I planned to propose to her on Friday night, at a restaurant in Parkhurst, but the atmosphere didn’t feel right. The next morning, I had the idea: why don’t I propose to her on stage?

I told her to wear something nice for the concert. When she arrived, she was annoyed with me because she felt a bit overdressed.

I was so nervous during the whole concert, but I didn’t let it affect my performance. Singers are used to nerves, but this was something different. Of course I know she loves me, but I didn’t know if she was going to say yes.

Most operas are about love – and money, and sometimes death – but this time I was performing my own love story on the stage. When I sang the aria Dein ist mein ganzes herz, which translates as You Are My Heart’s Desire, no one in the audience realised that I could see the woman I want to marry. I was singing it to her.

After our encore, I asked her to come on stage. The audience gasped and cheered. She started crying when I got down on one knee. But she said yes. I’m planning to pay lobola, probably in April, and then we will decide between a traditional wedding or a white wedding. I don’t plan to sing at my own wedding.

Sipho Fubesi is performing with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra on February 8 and 18. In Johannesburg, the Mozart Festival runs until  February 2.

Sipho Fubesi, as told to Simon Allison

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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