Kōrero: Classical musicians

Whārangi 6. Singers of the 2000s

Ngā whakaahua

Pacific Island singers

Building on a rich culture of church choirs, a number of New Zealanders with Pacific Island backgrounds have gained international renown.

Jonathan Lemalu

Otago University-educated Samoan New Zealander Jonathan Lemalu, a bass-baritone, was a sensation at the BBC Proms in 2004 and 2005 (on the latter occasion appearing with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra). He took leading roles at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne in England, Munich, San Francisco, Chicago and at the Met in New York.

Benjamin Makisi

Tenor Benjamin Makisi, who is of Tongan and Samoan descent, sang frequently with Opera Australia and for NBR New Zealand Opera from the early 2000s.

Singing springboard

The Lexus Song Quest (previously the Mobil Song Quest) is a prestigious New Zealand singing competition that has launched the careers of many outstanding artists. Recent winners include Martin Snell, Jonathan Lemalu, Anna Leese, Aivale Cole and Amitai Pati.

Aivale Cole

After graduating with honours from the Australian Opera Studio in 2005, New Zealand-born and -educated Aivale Cole appeared in both concert and opera performances in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Amitai and Pene Pati

Born into a Samoan family that emigrated to Auckland, brothers Amitai and Pene Pati had outstanding tenor voices. In 2012 they both won major singing competitions and, with their cousin, baritone Moses Mackay, went on to form popular classical-contemporary trio SOL3 MIO (sometimes written as Sole Mio).

Other opera singers

Other New Zealand singers remain prominent in the world of opera.

Simon O’Neill

First among these is Ashburton-born Simon O’Neill, who was described by London’s Telegraph in 2009 as ‘the best heroic tenor to emerge over the last decade’.1 Sought after by top-ranked conductors, orchestras and opera houses, O’Neill achieved principal artist status at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Covent Garden and La Scala in Milan, and at both the Bayreuth (Germany) and Salzburg (Austria) festivals. Like Kiri Te Kanawa and his mentor Donald McIntyre, he gained extraordinary international acclaim – but despite this remained a proud New Zealander, keen to perform at home with local orchestras and opera companies.

Paul Whelan

Bass-baritone Paul Whelan sang internationally from the 1990s, performing numerous operatic roles in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, as well as New Zealand.

Ana James

Lyric soprano Ana James was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at Covent Garden from 2005 to 2007, and developed a wide operatic and concert repertoire.

Anna Leese

After graduating from the Benjamin Britten International Opera School at the Royal College of Music in London in 2006, soprano Anna Leese sang in operas in Europe and New Zealand. In 2014 she was based in Tuscany in Italy.

Stephen Chambers

Following his debut at the BBC Proms in 2010, tenor Stephen Chambers received glowing reviews for his opera and concert appearances.

Martin Snell

The New Zealand flag flew regularly in the main street of Bayreuth from 2005 thanks to bass-baritone Martin Snell’s consistent casting in the annual Wagner Festival. Snell, based in Switzerland in 2014, returned frequently to sing in New Zealand between engagements with European companies.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in ‘Reviews.’ Simon O’Neill, http://www.simononeill.com/grace/Reviews.html. (Last accessed 9 July 2014). Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Peter Walls, 'Classical musicians - Singers of the 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/classical-musicians/page-6 (accessed 15 August 2018)

Story by Peter Walls, published 22 Oct 2014