British filmmaker Claire Oakley’s film Tuning In is a delicately shot short documentary about South African Soprano Pumeza Matshikiza.
Pumeza was born in a township on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. She discovered Opera for the first time by accident as a teenager when switching radio stations and fell in love. The song that was playing was The Marriage of Figaro sung by Swiss soprano Edith Mathis.
She studied at the University of Cape Town College of Music and moved to London to further her studies at the Royal College of Music with a full scholarship.
By 2014 she had released her debut album Voice of Hope, with arias from Puccini and Mozart, along with African popular and traditional songs.
In 2015, Pumeza made her debut singing with Sir Antonio Pappano, along with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Santa Cecilia, in Rome for the world premiere of Luca Francesconi’s Bread, Water, and Salt, which is based on the famous speech by Nelson Mandela.
The featured short film was commissioned by Universal Music. It begins with Pumeza sitting in an empty theatre talking about the wonder and dreaming that goes along with the experience of a visit to a performance at a theatre.
“I think people come to the theater to dream. It’s all about dreaming and let your soul be taken to different musical arenas.”
We follow her into a library as she talks about the things she puts into herself to bring the character to life. She wanders past books, paintings, and talks about how it could be a bit of personal experience, a color from some scenery. But it is important not to put too many things in or the piece can be too emotional. She stands with books under a painting, poised and calm.
“The most interesting thing and difficult thing about singing is your instrument is in your body, so whatever emotions you are going through, they all come out through your voice.”
There is a beautifully edited series of plants intercut with Matshikiza’s gentle face as she talks about her daily practice of meditation and how this helps her performance.
“I do a lot of meditation, I meditate almost every single day.”
Pumeza shares that the piece she sings, Après un rève by Gabriel Faurè, was written when his engagement fell apart. The person is dreaming about their lover.
“The person is dreaming about their lover and being with them in the sky in heaven, how beautiful everything was, how beautiful the person looked, how warm their voice was, and then she wakes up and realizes it was all a dream, and she says: ‘Please come back,’ the dream should come back.”
The film ends with a startling performance where she walks into out the brightly lit doors and we are left with nothing but her silhouette.