Bello-issima! Nigerian Singer Takes Opera World by Storm
A live performance of an aria from an Italian opera isn’t a common sound in the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria. So, when news spread of an appearance by professional soprano Omo Bello at the Musical Society of Nigeria School of Music, crowds flocked to see her.
“I didn’t realize to what extent I was recognized in Nigeria,” the 33-year-old admitted after singing O mio babbino caro, from Giacomo Puccini’s 1918 opera Gianni Schicchi.
“I’ve been away for over a decade, and I guess things have changed and I didn’t realize how much,” she said. “When I was told that lots of people were coming, I was a little surprised. It’s a pleasant surprise though, but still a surprise.”
Bello was a Lagos science student who won a scholarship to study at the Paris Conservatoire. Tours followed, with an album and awards, including one from the foundation of the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti. She now has a repertoire that ranges from Bellini to Verdi.
In Nigeria, associated more with Afrobeat and Highlife than Albinoni or Haydn, she said the internet has created new audiences for different musical styles.
“I know that lots of people discovered me on YouTube in Nigeria and social media, so it’s a good thing, as people see and hear this music and are surprised that it’s very beautiful,” she said.
“The fact that it’s open to everyone creates a wider audience, so I’m very happy to discover that the public is growing for this music in Nigeria.”
As an increasingly established performer, Bello also recognizes the need to help develop the genre and would like to see Nigeria with its own conservatory and opera house.
Using recent graduates of Europe’s top music academies to help develop performers in places such as Nigeria could help identify and nurture the next generation of talent, she said.
“African music has gone to the West, and why should the opposite be impossible?” she said.