Last summer, when Musa Ngqungwana made his debut in the title role of the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the Glimmerglass Festival, he discovered that life had prepared him to play an outsider.
The bass-baritone was raised by a single mother in what he calls a “ghetto” of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He says that growing up in apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa until 1991, almost guaranteed him a life of poverty and perhaps an early death.
But music saved him.
He’s traced his story in a new memoir, Odyssey of an African Opera Singer, published this month by Penguin Random House, South Africa.
During his run at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York, Musa sat down to talk with us about his escape from poverty, his passion for opera, and why -- in an all-black cast in America -- he still felt like an outsider.