Tshombe Selby is a local kid who was always displayed incredible levels of talent as a singer – specifically a tenor, in opera.
Five years after leaving the Outer Banks for New York City to experience the training he felt he needed for a career in opera, he’ll be returning. He’s coming back to play the role of Alfredo—the central male character in Verdi’s tragic opera, La Traviata. The performance was scheduled for Sept 15, but has to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Florence.
Traveling back to the Outer Banks from New York may be one of his shorter journeys. He is on the short list of international up and coming stars in the world of opera and classical music, and the invitations he has received for various festivals confirm that.
He spent a few weeks in May and June at the NUOVA (Newly United Operatic Vocalists Association) Opera Festival in Edmonton, Alberta. Then followed that with a week in Kiev at the the Bouquet Kiev Stage—the bouquet referring to the flowering of young talent.
That’s a long way from Manteo and Haven Creek Missionary Baptist Church where he first fell in love with music and singing. That heritage, the traditional hymnal music of the Baptist Church, is still very much with him and is an important part of his recital repertoire.
He gave a recital earlier this year in Southern Shores. Titled “An Afternoon of Spirituals and Arias,” the program highlighted the power and versatility of his voice. The arias were sung with power, but his voice was beautifully modulated, matching perfectly the story the music was telling.
The way he sang spirituals, though, elevated what is a traditional American music to a new level. Powerful and nuanced, his interpretation and performance of the songs created a new way of thinking about what is, in many ways, everyday music.
He credits his time at Elizabeth City State University where he earned a degree in vocal performance with helping him to understand the rich history behind the spiritual that has created the ability to perform them as well as he does.
It isn’t just on the Outer Banks that he is performing spirituals. At the NUOVA Festival, along with performing in three operatic roles, he found time to give a recital of spirituals.
In an interview before his Outer Banks performance of La Traviata, Tshombe talked about his performance in Edmonton, saying, “Half the faculty at NUOVA told me it was the best performance at the festival.”
Although his ability to sing the traditional music of the American church is wonderful, it will probably be in the world of classic opera that he makes his mark, and that is why he is currently at the New York Opera Company.
He is there because of the support of the Outer Banks community, something he has mentioned a number of times.
Always noted as an extraordinarily gifted tenor voice, after college he worked a couple of jobs locally, including school bus driver, before landing a role in The Lost Colony.
The role in the play led to two outcomes—being named Choir Master for The Lost Colony and Lebame Houston of Elizabeth R & Company.
Elizabeth R & Company is an Outer Banks nonprofit that specializes in plays about history and the Outer Banks and among other activities supporting theater. LeBame was one of the founding members of the organization and she is also the historian for the Lost Colony.
Hearing Tshombe sing, she knew his voice was something special, but she also felt he could improve his acting and hone in on aspects of his voice.
To help him do that, five years ago, Elizabeth R provided a scholarship that sent Tshombe to New York and paid for acting, voice lessons, and anything else needed to learn what is needed to succeed in the world of opera.
It seems as though the investment is paying off. He has been invited to a number of festivals—Kiev and Edmonton are just the two most recent—and the range of roles he is being asked to perform will mark him as an operatic voice to be reckoned with.
The path seems to be very clearly pointing in the right direction. So…one day when the marquee outside some internationally renowned opera house reads, “Tshombe Selby Performs La Traviata” or “La Boheme,” remember you heard it here first.