The New Zealand Opera School has selected a larger number of applicants than usual for its annual intensive summer school. All in their twenties, the singers hail from Cheviot to Whangarei, ranging in experience from freshmen to post graduates.
“We were spoilt for choice.” says New Zealand Opera School director Jonathan Alver, announcing the young singers chosen for the highly contested, residential, talent development programme. “So many applicants said they were motivated because we have attracted two of the best singing teachers in the world to form our International Vocal Faculty, sponsored by the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation. Now we can place a dream cast of young New Zealand singers in front of these stellar teachers and their international career prospects will be boosted! It’s very exciting.”
The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation International Vocal Faculty will be led by opera star Della Jones and Professor César Ulloa, who is Chair of Voice at the San Francisco Conservatoire and leads programmes for the San Francisco Opera Center. His students have been first prize winners and finalists in numerous competitions including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Placido Domingo’s Operalia, Concurso Montserrat Caballé, and the Cardiff Singer of the World.
Della Jones, has had a stunning career as one of the world’s leading mezzo-sopranos, appearing in the U.S, Russia, Japan, Canada, U.K. and throughout Europe in over 120 operatic roles. She has a prolific recording portfolio exceeding 120 works across every major record label, and has worked with leading orchestras and conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Simon Rattle, and Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
The pair provide “a real connection with the opera world of today” says Jonathan Alver. “César Ulloa brings an enormous level of sophistication to what we do. I see him as one of the very best singing teachers in the world, in a position where he is seeing and hearing the cream of world talent all the time.” One of the incoming students, Isabella Moore, has already been working with César Ulloa in San Francisco.
Della Jones comes from “the school of singing actresses,” says Jonathan Alver. “She has lit up stages around the world; she is 100 percent artist and that is what the young opera singers of the future need to be. She has an amazing understanding of the Bel Canto sound and works with some of the best young singers in London.”
The New Zealand Opera School provides New Zealand’s most intensive training for emerging opera singers, with tuition and coaching in voice, language and movement, and public performance opportunities over two weeks every January. Usually, twenty-two students from around the country are selected on merit to attend the residential school. After reviewing applications and auditions, Jonathan Alver says it was impossible to exclude the two additional applicants who take the number to a record twenty-four. “Any other year we would have been delighted to include many of those who were left out, but the standard was just so high; we do hope to have many of those others in the future.”
He points out that many of the successful applicants are on the threshold of launching themselves into overseas institutions. “We will have them at the school for the last time before they head off. Each singer has to find their own specific moment. We encourage some of them to leave the country almost immediately, but for many, they must bide their time, learn as much as they can, and become more vocally mature to make the most of their time overseas. The school aims to help students know the right time. Know when their voice and technique has grown enough to make the most of the opportunities they are being given.”
The School has proved to be an important influence in advancing some of New Zealand's top talent towards their goals, including international tenor star Simon O’Neill and the three singers from the award-winning group Sol3 Mio. It has also formed a strong connection with the national opera company.
General Director of New Zealand Opera, Stuart Maunder, says the NZ Opera School has been singled out as “valuable and essential” by each and every emerging artist in the company. “In my previous life as Executive Producer of Opera Australia I was aware of the work of New Zealand Opera School in that I compered and adjudicated many vocal competitions in which the finalists almost always included a large number of New Zealanders. Every one of those New Zealanders acknowledged that they had benefitted from the training provided at the school.”
“I continue to be amazed by the depth of operatic talent in New Zealand. With each audition, each singing competition, each discussion, these extraordinarily talented singers reinforce the reality that the New Zealand Opera School is a major contributor to the operatic scene in New Zealand. In addition I have now had a chance to experience first-hand the expertise and knowledge of many of the highly skilled tutors used by the school. The students selected for training certainly get access to the top echelon of operatic practitioners, not only from New Zealand but around the world.”
Jonathan Alver says Dame Kiri had a “personal hand” in the selection of the two international tutors this year. In the last school, she personally took a masterclass and observed students in situ, describing the school as “a natural partner” in her foundation’s work, as it motivates and educates young singers who aspire to fulltime international careers. The calibre of tutors for 2017 provides “a direct connection” into the international system, says Jonathan Alver, bringing the school right up-to-date with worldwide trends.
As usual, the NZ Opera School will be held on the campus of Wanganui Collegiate, from 9-22 January 2017. Founder and Executive Chair Donald Trott says Whanganui has an even more special treat in store this year due to the exceptional talent of the programme’s participants. “We have post-graduate and internationally experienced singers who already have begun to make their mark on the world stage. They are joined by some of the country’s most exciting newcomers, and I cannot wait to witness the energy and transfusion of talent that will occur. Whanganui Opera Week will be electrically charged this year, and of course it culminates in the fully staged Great Opera Moments evening, presented by the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation on Saturday 21st January in the Royal Wanganui Opera House. It will be a fitting finale to a fortnight of education and inspiration.”