South African opera singer Lehobye’s voice lifts, then levels

Submitted photo Goitsemang Lehobye

Under the lights, in the hollow of the resplendently high-ceilinged auditorium of the Minnesota Orchestra, Goitsemang Lehobye’s voice is an instrument that stands out. 

The South African opera singer was in town visiting Minnesota alongside conductor Osmo Vänskä this past Friday.

Vänskä had just led the full Minnesota Orchestra through renditions of Latin American-influenced classical compositions that began jaunty and summery, moved along by lively percussion. Soon, the weight of the orchestra swung into a triumphalism, exercising the glory of blending styles the world over.  

The busy stage was whittled down to a small group of cellists and the arrival of Lehobye, dressed in a white gown, her hair pulled back into a large bun that sat below the horizon of her head as the sun. 

The cellists began their subtle accompaniment, and Lehobye, too, began sweetly and meekly, devoid of language, simply using her voice as the final melodic crust atop the cellos. 

The soprano, singing the aria and adagio of “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Soprano and Orchestra of Cellos, then dug into the Brazilian song that Lehobye belt out with power, blasting past sweetness and crescendoing in a dramatic blaze. Lehobye settled, then, smoothly transitioning into mournful humming.

She entered the stage, just before the first intermission, as a palate cleanser from the full orchestra. But, with just the accompaniment of the cellists, she was able to convey a full range of emotion, a full emotional arc. 

It’s fantastic seeing any opera singer, fully committed and talented, transport an audience to a faraway land, smoky and melodic and full of sorrow and wonder. But, seeing this Black woman capitalize on her talents and have a world-class orchestra like Minnesota’s support and embrace her is even more powerful. 

Submitted photo Roderick Cox

Though it is the furious violinists and second-row trumpets that ultimately deliver the transcendent tunes, the composer, like a director, brings everything together with passion and decisive direction.

Roderick Cox, a Black composer who’s previously worked for the Minnesota Orchestra, will be back July 20. Cox, aided by first violin Elena Urioste, will conduct music from Spaniard Manuel de Falla, Cuban José White, and the Venetian master Ludwig van Beethoven.