Opera singer’s life after a quarter of a century not always a song

Henry

On her big night when she for the first time the prestigious role of Maria in the musical West Side Story interpreted, she first took a few minutes to place a bunch of flowers on the very front empty seat. Flowers for her late mother who was so proud that she got the part but never got to experience it on opening night.

Yes, life has certainly not always been a song for the singer Lynelle Kenned (35), who has been performing in front of audiences for more than 25 years.

You should rather work for your work than for the applause, is her motto.

“Overnight success is a myth created by popular music programs. It actually takes years behind the scenes before you are successful,” she says.

Plus, the show always goes on, even if your heart is broken into pieces due to tragedies.

Lynelle grew up with classical music in her ears and took piano, cello, recorder and violin lessons as a child and young adult.

“My parents realized early on that I had singing talent and I already started taking singing lessons in primary school. In the school choir I sang solos.

“When I was 9 years old, it was the first time I was fully on stage with an orchestra and participated in the then KWV Paarl competition where I was named a finalist. The following year, when I was ten years old, I entered the junior category with the song Joy to the World won.

“My mother still made the costume and sewed the sequins onto my clothes. She made me a black velvet top with chiffon arms. My hair was long and styled in curls,” she recalls.

She also sang in the Fidentia Youth Choir at the time, which exposed the choir members a lot to the industry.

“While I was in the boarding school at Hoërskool Stellenberg, the boarding parents took us one day after the show Showboat then taken where the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra performed.

“I was completely bowled over when I saw how the music was combined with storytelling in this large-scale classical music production. Although I initially wanted to go into medicine, the bullet when it came to music was then through the church.

“I went to study opera at the University of Cape Town because I wanted to gain stage experience and took singing lessons with prof. Virginia Davids received. It was a wonderful and challenging sharpening school. The course covers a wide network of skills.

“In addition to music history and audience, we were also taught all the practical elements of the stage, recital and movement.

Versatility

Lynelle, who describes herself as “human, spontaneous, versatile, adaptable, tough, curious and grateful”, has also been a TV presenter and actress.

She joined the program Top Billing landed after they set up a presenter search in 2012.

“I applied to stop my mother’s nagging about it,” she laughs.

“I’m after it Passella then moved. They wanted to know if I could speak Afrikaans fluently – and this while I am a Paarliet and everyone in Paarl speaks Afrikaans.

About the TV show Out of the bedroomin which she participated last year, she says: “It was educational, fun and healing.”

Musicals

In 2015 she played the lead role of Maria West Side Story got when she performed with a full philharmonic orchestra in the opera house of the Cape of Arts.

“My mother still wrote on Facebook how proud she was of me that I got the role.

“Unfortunately, she died of cancer on May 5, a month before rehearsals began. I just get a lump in my throat.

“It was a difficult time. I never had time to process my loss because I was too busy with Passella.

“The day after my mother’s funeral was Mother’s Day and the day after that I was back on set. It would be career suicide to pull out. I repressed everything and locked it away where there was no need to confront it and I threw myself heart and soul into the work.

“On the opening night, I placed a bunch of flowers for my mother on an empty seat in the front row and just took a moment to say thank you for all the sacrifices she made for my career.”

Lynelle could really identify with Maria’s losses – especially in the scenes where she could express herself emotionally where Tony had already been shot and was in Maria’s arms.

“The character is very close to my heart.”

Another highlight in her singing career was when she performed with the famous Katharine Jenkins from Wales years ago when she was in the country.

“I sang a duet with her – me soprano and her mezzo. She then introduced me to the audience at Grand West.”

Travel

As we spoke, Lynelle was on her way to Florence for performances and to travel for two weeks afterwards.

“I enjoy traveling both locally and internationally. Especially to a road trip to tackle and camp with my lover, John Ashmore. Of glamping to stay in a tent. We are crazy about nature.

“We have been in a lovely relationship for 18 months. He has a doctorate in Health Economics. We met on Tinder where I wrote that I was commuting between pajamas and ball gowns.

“If I don’t travel I feel confined, as if I suffer from a fear of narrow spaces.

“Sometimes you travel to a place where no one knows you. Then you don’t have to act or wear make-up and can just fit in with a normal life.”

Even though she has traveled all over the world, nothing is as enjoyable for her as singing for her own people in her own language, Afrikaans.

Mentors

Among her favorites in the industry are dr. Erik Dippenaar, leader of the Cape Baroque Orchestra.

“He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and creativity.

“I also experience so much love, respect and gratitude towards Amanda Strydom as a person and an artist. In her art she can cut to the bone.

“She is so open and transparent about her own journey with mental health and bipolar disorder. I have also had to confront deep darkness within myself. Miss Mandy opened her heart and held mine.”

Death Doula

A few years ago, Lynelle completed a course on death guidance through the American School of Thanatology, as well as a Hospice course.

The death doula helps the dying with duties such as last wishes, legacy, advance care directives and then of course emotional support.

“The course taught me about the physical aspects of death, the cycles of mourning, and the shadows of loss.

“It’s important to examine our relationship with death. I also want to do another care course and find out how one cares for the body after death.

“That’s how I want to be of service to my family and friends.

“I suffered from complex (PTSD) post-traumatic stress disorder during the pandemic and had to learn how to manage my own anxiety and depression.

“Due to developmental trauma, I have almost no memory of my childhood.

“It was also related to the circumstances surrounding my mother’s death. Death was not properly talked about and there was no closure. I felt that I was deprived of honesty and a safe space.”

Council

What advice would she give to young singers? Is it as glamorous as it seems? And how do you ensure that you don’t burn out or become overtired?

Lynelle: I always wonder what I would want to know at that stage. It looks glamorous from the outside, but it takes a lot of help, time and effort to create the illusion of glamour. There is not always help with hair, make-up and clothes. It’s a Hollywood myth.

“You have to manage your time and energy and be good at planning and administration so you can work in breaks.

“One must be able to keep one’s head between quiet and busy times. And be aware that you work unusual hours in the entertainment industry where rehearsals even take place on Saturdays and Sundays and you sometimes have to work on holidays and during festival periods.

“One often misses times with friends and family with milestones, weddings, birthdays and funerals. You can’t just put in a day’s leave. Canceling is not an option at all.

“It can be lonely and challenging. Your mental health is the most important thing in this profession. I go to therapy weekly. One must take care of oneself. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others either”, she says.

“And guard against the green-eyed monster.”