By Alicia Powell
(Reuters) - Born into a musical family in South Africa, operatic soprano Pretty Yende grew up singing gospel music in church.
In 2001, at the age of 16 in her hometown of Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, she heard the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes' opera "Lakmé" in a television commercial. That opened up a whole new world for her.
"When I hear the music, the beauty and the joy that I felt in those 10 seconds, I knew I could do that because it's human," Yende, 31, said in an interview. "When I was told it was humanly possible, I said, well, 'teach me.'"
After seven years of performing live around the world, Yende released her debut album titled, "A Journey," on Sept. 16, which highlights some of the best moments of her career.
"From a child who grew up in a small town to such a big world, I knew it was important for me to be well informed so that I can enjoy the journey as well," said Yende, who recorded the album in an Italian auditorium where she performs regularly in order to feel more comfortable.
Yende said most of the songs are technically demanding, with the aria "Respiro io qui" from "Beatrice di Tenda," composed by Vincenzo Bellini, being the most challenging.
Perfection has never been her goal, she pointed out.
"This is just a gift, it is just a gift. It's not to show that I'm the best of the best. That does not exist," Yende said.
Yende identified the Metropolitan Opera House in New York as her musical home.
"The first time I opened my mouth and sang at the Met, it felt like the whole Metropolitan Opera House welcomes my voice. It was like it was saying, 'We love you,'" Yende said. "It felt so good and so easy."
Yende will perform the role of Rosina in Gioachino Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" in January and Juliette in Charles Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" in March at the Met in 2017.
The soprano said her goal was to go back home to "each and every village, every corner of South Africa" to educate and spread the awareness of classical music.
"Because if my dad did not buy that TV - and we did have that TV at home - I wouldn't be here with you today."
(Reporting by Alicia Powell in New York; Writing by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)