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NZ Opera school ends on high note with Dame Kiri

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand’s 22nd annual summer opera school finished over the weekend with students performing a showcase of great opera moments before a packed Royal Wanganui Opera House and guest of honour Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

During the two week intensive residential school hosted at Wanganui Collegiate, 20 students, who were selected on merit, worked daily from 7am until nightfall, under the guidance of international and New Zealand world class tutors of the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation International Vocal Faculty and the Freemasons Music Faculty. It was clear, however, that the school’s first ever visit and masterclass given by Dame Kiri was a highlight for many of the students who are mostly in their early twenties.

School director Jonathan Alver was full of praise for the tutors and especially the visiting opera icon. "Dame Kiri told us that she would be tough and that students would have to overcome their nerves. She would be looking for exceptional young singers, and she believed nerves are a part of the learning process. After some understandable trepidation, there was relief and delight at her strength of perception, her encouragement and her gracious instruction of the students at her masterclass. While at the school Dame Kiri made a point of hearing all students, and she was generous with her time and in her comments. She is a wonderful role model."

Dame Kiri also attracted a full house for "in conversation", over 90 minutes where she talked publicly and candidly to singer Rodney Macann about her career, her personal challenges, and her foundation which supports not only the NZ Opera School but many young New Zealanders who are working to carve a professional opera career in Europe.

Dame Kiri flew out for Europe on Sunday (17 January) having captivated the sponsors, audience, tutors and students whom she addressed at a school finale on Saturday night. She presented the Spirit of the School award to baritone Jarvis Dams from Waikato, and the $5000 Dame Sister Mary Leo scholarship to soprano Eliza Boom, also studying in Hamilton.

Dame Kiri’s calls for more projection, more character and more breath seemed to have been heard by the students. "Tonight I was more than surprised by some of the voices," said Dame Kiri. "Some that I couldn’t hear clearly the other night (at the masterclass) were doubly strong."

"The ensembles were wonderful, the choice of music was wonderful. You should be incredibly proud of your young people for such an amazing performance, along with the team of workers behind you. It flowed so well - we couldn’t wait to see the next one coming on; it was absolutely wonderful."

Dame Kiri singled out for particular praise a trio from la fille du régiment by Donizetti, sung by Madison Nonoa, Filipe Manu and Jarvis Dams.

Whanganui Mayor, Annette Main, also gave tribute to the opera school, which has remained at the same campus since its inception. "It is an honour to be mayor of a place that hosts such a fantastic school," she said.

Chair of the school, Donald Trott, reiterated the intention that the nursery of opera talent would stay in the city. Dame Kiri commented on the school and progammes, "they don’t know how lucky they are with the town right behind them. It’s so precious. I could almost say I envy you!"

Dame Kiri referred to her foundation and its work both overseas and at the school. "We’re not looking for ordinary, we’re looking for exceptional, because that’s what the world wants." She also talked of the "third stage" in her professional life "which is morning, noon and night students. Helping these young people is a great reward - almost better than my own career."

Applications for the 2017 NZ Opera School are expected to open mid year, and Jonathan Alver says that "as usual" it will be well over-subscribed. "There is a real buzz about the school, the top tutors that the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation and the Freemasons facilitate, and the success of past pupils like Simon O’Neill, who is now a tutor himself. We already have hands up for next year."

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