Sophie Speer - Dom Post
A trio of budding prima donnas are in the running to win New Zealand's most prestigious opera singing competition, which would propel them into the limelight.
Eastbourne's Bianca Andrew, 22, Bryony Williams, 22, originally from New Plymouth, and Isabella Moore, 21, originally from Auckland, are among the 12 semi-finalists in the Lexus Song Quest.
The competition has catapulted the careers of opera stars including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Jonathan Lemalu and Madeleine Pierard.
For Williams, what was once a fantasy is tantalisingly close; a professional career as a classical opera singer.
"I didn't think it was possible. It's a constant reward, you're constantly working on yourself, working on getting everything right. You're constantly learning and being critiqued, trying to create a better sound."
She is heading to Italy for two months, to learn the language used in so many operas.
"If you know the language it gives you that much more of an advantage. It's quite crucial to have that understanding."
Andrew has been freelancing since she completed her post graduate music degree last year, most recently in an acting role in the New Zealand Opera's upcoming production Rigoletto.
She grew up with the country and blues music of her father, and pop music as a teenager. But a $5 CD from The Warehouse featuring 100 of the best classical songs, got her hooked.
"Once I listened to classical music it had a profound effect on me. Opera and classical sums up all the interests I have. I really love languages, love drama and acting, and storytelling."
Moore discovered her talent and interest in singing almost by accident. After being booted off Auckland's St Mary's College school band where she played the saxophone, she was told she needed to choose a new instrument for her NCEA finals. So in a spur of the moment decision she chose singing; and has not looked back.
While she had dreams of being the next Beyonce, Moore quickly realised her voice was more suited to classical singing.
2009 Song Quest winner Aivale Cole is an inspiration to Moore, as they both share Samoan heritage.
"Seeing her win made me strive to enter the competition."
The trio agree winning the competition would have a massive impact on their futures, giving them exposure as well as money to help further study and travels.
"The interesting thing about opera singers and classical music, most of our lives and career will be spent developing skills and studying," Andrew says. "Winning would be so wonderful because it would help propel more study."
The semi-finalists have recorded songs which will be played on Radio New Zealand between July 5 and 14. Then six finalists will be selected to perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Michael Fowler Centre on August 30. The winner will receive a $15,000 study scholarship, $10,000 cash, and return international airfares.
Some previous winners of the Lexus Song Quest (formerly Mobil Song Quest):
Dame Malvina Major – 1963 – international opera career has included more than 28 major operatic roles and concerts, including an outdoor concert with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra at the pyramids in Egypt.
Ad Feedback Dame Kiri Te Kanawa – 1965 – leading soprano roles internationally throughout the 1970s and 1980s, performed at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes – 1991 – career on both the opera stage and the concert platform, particularly in Australia and Europe.
Jonathan Lemalu – 1998 – bass-baritone roles in international operas, his first solo orchestral recording won New Zealand's Best Classical Album in 2005.
Anna Leese – 2002 – has sung in London's Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, toured with Andrea Bocelli, performed with Canadian Opera and New Zealand Opera.
Madeleine Pierard – 2005 – Jette Parker Young Artist with the Royal Opera House in London, performed concerts throughout New Zealand and the UK.