South African soprano stars in ‘Aida’ in Costa Mesa

Every opera star dreams of playing certain iconic roles. Some must wait until they’re well into their careers before they have the vocal maturity and the opportunity to land them. For certain sopranos, Aida, the captive Nubian princess at the center of Giuseppe Verdi’s celebrated opera of the same name, is one of those parts.

Though she’s only 28, Kelebogile Besong, a spinto soprano from South Africa, will perform the role for the third time in her young career later this month when Pacific Symphony presents a semi-staged version of “Aida.” Her performances on Feb. 23, 25 and 28 represent Besong’s North American debut.

We talked to Besong about her upcoming role, her career plans, and her strong ties to the life and culture of her native land.

The Orange County Register: We’ve heard that the role of Aida holds a special significance for you.

Kelebogile Besong: This is really my favorite role. I had told myself it is a role I must sing before I die. This is a role I find myself very happy with. For one thing, my voice is right for the role. The danger is I must be careful to make sure that I don’t try to sign it too big. I’m very aware that I’m still young. This is definitely a role that I want to grow with. It really can be sung without being too big. You must also remember to be vulnerable and sad. You need to balance and know when to (hold) back.

Register: Do you have a favorite Aida portrayal?

Besong: Leontyne Price, that’s one of the best. She is one of those singers that really embody Aida. She makes her so real and human. I do like Margaret Price as well. But I don’t look to anyone when it comes to doing the role myself; I never have.

Register: Why does this Verdi opera resonate with you?

Besong: I’m from a country that, for me, doesn’t differ so much from the story. Slavery and apartheid: I know about this. My grandma told me stories; I never went though all those things myself. I could relate to them though. I…

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