Over its 30 years, the Dame Malvina Major Foundation has invested in young talent through a range of grants, scholarships and prizes. Here we cover the breadth of awards and hear from performing artists who have benefitted.
Artist development programmes with New Zealand Opera | Opera Studies Programme | Pacific Opera Programme | Arts Excellence Awards | Cecily Maccoll High Achiever Award | Alice Cole Piano Scholarship | Ryman Healthcare DMMF Mina Foley Award | Italian for New Zealand Opera Singers Masterclasses | Peter Lees-Jeffries Memorial Scholarship | Lockwood New Zealand Aria | Sir Howard Morrison Vocal Scholarship | Regional aria competitions
Since 2000, the Foundation has collaborated with New Zealand Opera to nurture and support the development of young singers as they embark on professional singing careers. Today the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artists Programme offers vocal and dramatic training, mentoring by international experts and performance opportunities with New Zealand Opera.
Thinking back to 2012, Bianca recalls being loved up. “I had recently graduated from the New Zealand School of Music and was a member of the New Zealand Opera chorus. I was completely in love with opera. I loved everything about it and found the whole business of making opera utterly fascinating. I knew that becoming an Emerging Artist would give me the opportunity to further my training in this wonderful world, so I was overjoyed when I was selected for the Emerging Artist programme.”
One of the highlights was the chance to perform on the main stage. “Of course, it wasn’t only the performances themselves that provided the greatest learning curves – for me, it was the experience of being in a rehearsal process that was the most rewarding and important part.”
Bianca went on to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, under soprano Yvonne Kenny. She landed a position in the Opernstudio with Oper Frankfurt in Germany then joined the soloist ensemble at Oper Frankfurt, where she remains today.
“My journey from being an aspiring young singer in New Zealand to working at one of the top opera houses in Europe would simply not have been possible without the support of people like Dame Malvina and her foundation. Throughout my career, Dame Malvina and her team of incredible supporters have provided me not only with several scholarships, but also performance opportunities and mentorship. Both opera-lovers and opera-makers owe a great deal to Dame Malvina and her foundation.”
Bianca Andrew in Oper Frankfurt’s I Puritani, photo: Barbara Aumüller
A DMMF Emerging Artist in the first year of the programme, seventeen years later, James was named DMMF Fellow, supporting his return from London to perform two roles in New Zealand Opera’s production of Carmen. It also provided the opportunity to mentor some younger singers, including the DMMF Emerging Artists.
“It helped confirm my desire to come back to New Zealand to focus on my teaching, a decision I’m very happy to have made!” says James.
Today James is based in Auckland teaching, coaching and performing – and paying it forward, volunteering as Chair of the DMMF Auckland/Waikato committee. He says the Foundation, and Dame Malvina herself, were hugely generous as he was starting out and so many artists, in multiple fields, could say the same.
“I was very keen to see how I could give back and keep the good work going. It’s a very rewarding experience on the committee as I get to see the work of so many talented young New Zealanders, all of whom are doing very well in many different parts of the world and across a wide range of disciplines.”
This programme, in association with New Zealand Opera, offered specialist training for young New Zealand singers on the verge of international vocal studies. Participants received two weeks of intensive coaching from international tutors with a particular focus on recitative training – a style of delivery used in operas in which a singer adopts the rhythms of ordinary speech.
A former DMMF Emerging Artist, Katherine was selected for this programme just before moving to London to begin her Master’s at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She says the programme was a productive and special experience, and came at the perfect time.
“I was able to take part in an intensive and enriching series of coachings and classes to really focus on my singing, amongst all the stresses of visas, fundraising and applications. The programme underlined the importance of returning to the language to express the music and tell the story, and I took that with me as a major focus as I headed overseas to continue my studies.”
Three years on, Katherine is now on the Guildhall Opera Course, an intensive two-year programme focused on practical stage experience. She says the Dame Malvina Major Foundation has played a huge role in her development.
“I have been supported in so many ways. I feel so lucky to be part of this community, and grateful for the generosity, positivity and encouragement that is at the heart of everything that Dame Malvina does.”
A collaboration with the Kia Ora Foundation, the Pacific Opera Programme ran in Christchurch in 2011 and 2012 offering intensive coaching from the directors of the prestigious San Francisco Opera Centre to 16 voice students and three repetiteurs.
Amina had no idea at the time just how instrumental the Pacific Opera Programme would be in her emerging career.
“It was my first time ever participating in an opera training programme, and naively, I assumed it would just be a series of intensive voice lessons and coachings, when in reality it was so much more. Sheri Greenawald and Mark Morash led the programme and spent a great deal of time speaking to us about the business of opera and what it means to build a career as an opera singer.”
After studying in Wales and San Francisco, in 2015 Amina was accepted into the San Francisco Opera Centre’s Merola Opera Program and then its Adler Fellowship young artist program. Today she is a successful freelance artist working internationally.
“To say that I am beyond grateful for all the support I received from the Dame Malvina Major Foundation during my studies is an understatement. I know how much this foundation means to Dame Malvina and I can only hope to follow her lead one day and give back to future generations.”
First established by Anna Midgley in Christchurch in 2002, the DMMF Arts Excellence Awards exemplify Dame Malvina’s catch cry ‘From grassroots to excellence’, supporting emerging young talent locally. Our regional committees in Auckland/Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch today fundraise for and administer these awards, with the DMMF Taranaki committee’s awards generously supported by the TSB Community Trust.
Tasman first received a grant from the Foundation’s Christchurch committee when he was 14. He went on to receive three Arts Excellence Awards as his ballet career progressed at pace.
“As the youngest of three with a solo mother, money was very tight for training in the arts. However the confidence the Foundation had in my chances of success, indicated by the awards, meant equally as much to me. Without that backing my career may have stalled before it started.”
Tasman’s first grant helped him attend the Australian Ballet’s Summer School. His Arts Excellence Awards enabled him to train at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg, Russia for three years. He was the first Australasian to be accepted and ultimately graduate in the school’s 282 year history.
Since then he has danced professionally for the St Petersburg State Academic Theatre – Yacobson Ballet and in 2019 was nominated for ‘Best Male Performance in a Ballet’, for Gamache in Don Quixote in the Russian National Theatre Awards, the ‘Golden Masks’.
He says the Foundation feels like an arts ‘family’. “It is a source of pride to have been selected as an Arts Excellence Award recipient. As I sat in the Bolshoi for the Golden Mask ceremony, I hoped that in some way my supporters in New Zealand knew that I was grateful to them and it was also their reward!”
Established in 2010 from a legacy left by the original secretary and treasurer of the DMMF Christchurch Committee, the Cecily Maccoll High Achiever Award is granted as part of the Christchurch Arts Excellence Awards to a young classical instrumentalist or vocal performer in Canterbury.
Originally from Gisborne, Matthew received the Cecily Maccoll High Achiever Award after completing a Master in Flute Performance at the University of Canterbury. He says the funding enabled him to go to the Australian Flute Festival, for auditions, masterclasses and networking.
Today he lives in the United States and has just started a Doctorate in Musical Arts at Boston University. He was also a semi-finalist and prize winner at the 2019 Gisborne International Music Competition.
Awarded annually by the DMMF Auckland/Waikato Committee to a young pianist of outstanding ability in the region, this scholarship is funded by a legacy from the late Alice Cole, whose love of music inspired a bequest in her will for an annual piano scholarship.
The Alice Cole Piano Scholarship was the first major award Tony won specifically for his piano playing. He says it gave him a much needed boost of confidence. The funding contributed to an overseas audition trip which saw him land a place at the esteemed Eastman School of Music in New York. After his first year of undergraduate studies, he returned home to win the Wallace National Piano Competition.
Despite his performance and study plans being disrupted this year due to COVID-19, he is continuing his studies via Zoom with his Eastman Professor Alan Chow. “Staying in New Zealand through the remainder of the year and possibly into the next too, I’m hoping to make the most of the rare opportunity of live concert engagements that New Zealand is proud to be able to host. I’m carefully observing how the pandemic evolves in the US before I make my safe return!”
Since 2012, the Foundation has provided the $10,000 runner-up cash prize in the influential Lexus Song Quest (formerly the Mobil Song Quest), a competition that helped launch Dame Malvina’s own operatic career when she won first prize in 1963.
Eliza Boom, soprano | Lexus Song Quest runner up 2018
“The 2018 Lexus Song Quest finals was such an exciting night,” says Eliza. “The air felt electrified, and I would have been happy simply because of how I performed, but to be named the Dame Malvina Major Foundation runner-up was absolutely terrific!”
“It was particularly special to be awarded the prize by Dame Malvina, who in many ways was the initiator of my journey as a fully-fledged opera singer. It was while I was under her tuition that I first introduced myself to someone as an opera singer, a moment I clearly recall. To be given the prize by this wonderful woman was incredibly special.”
The prize supported Eliza’s study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester – a year, she says, that was a wonderful consolidation of her craft alongside gaining experience and exposure. Since then Eliza has been a Young Artist at the National Opera Studio in London, although her time there was cut short due to COVID-19. In September 2020 she started a two-year position at the Bayerische Staatsoper Opera Studio in Munich.
“Over the years, financial support from the Foundation has been the enabler of so many of my experiences. But there have also been years of advice, expertise and emotional support. To know that a foundation such as this is cheering me on and committed to supporting me as an artist is invaluable.”
This award, established in 2008 in memory of Mina Foley, one of New Zealand’s most promising vocal talents of yesteryear, enables New Zealand Opera to bring home New Zealanders to perform in a professional opera season. Since 2018, Ryman Healthcare has partnered with the Foundation to sponsor this award.
Being chosen for such an award is a huge boost for your self-esteem as an artist says Anna.
“When you’re no longer studying but working the profession, there are few such supports available, and it says to a working singer that your work is valid, more than that, it is appreciated and there are people who want to support you to continue. It can mean a lot to an artist who needs a bit of a boost!”
The award supported Anna’s return to New Zealand from Italy to perform in the lead role of Majenka in New Zealand Opera’s 2012 production of The Bartered Bride.
Today she lives in Dunedin with her husband Stefano and their two young boys, Matteo and Samuel, with Anna choosing to steer her professional career towards work at or near home.She also co-founded the Tākiri Ensemble, a vocal group which regularly tours New Zealand.This year she was appointed as an Ambassadorial Adviser to the Foundation. “I was flatteredto be invited, and happy to contribute to an organisation which has been so hugely positiveand supportive of my career.”
Since 2010, the Foundation has granted scholarships to enable young singers to take part in Patricia Hurley’s Italian for New Zealand Opera Singers Masterclasses in Italy, offering language lessons, vocal tuition and an introduction to Italian culture as well as performance opportunities.
Pasquale Orchard, soprano | Italian for New Zealand Opera Singers Masterclasses Scholarship recipient 2019
To call the experience and lessons learnt in Italy as life-changing is an understatement according to Pasquale. She says it was an honour to be selected and the amazing opportunity has been highlighted by the ensuing outbreak and impact of COVID-19.
“The immersive nature of the course provided an inspiring learning environment to develop not only my language skills but also my understanding of Italian vocal repertoire. The encouragement from fellow artisti and maestro Wyn Davies supported the essence of creativity that permeated the entire trip.”
Pasquale has since finished her Master of Music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, with classes online since April. She is now undertaking its Postgraduate Diploma course under scholarship.
Pasquale Orchard in Royal Northern College of Music’s Dialogues des Carmélites, photo: Robert Stewart
Set up in 2009 in honour of Christchurch theatrical designer and teacher Peter Lees-Jeffries, this occasional scholarship is awarded to New Zealand opera designers and directors.
The Peter Lees-Jeffries Memorial Scholarship enabled Jacqueline to immerse herself in the Italian language in preparation for directing New Zealand Opera’s La Bohème. She received Italian coaching from Victoria University linguist and translator Marco Sonzogni, an expert in translating opera libretti and performative uses of Italian.
“The coaching proved invaluable in developing a deeper understanding of the libretto, as well as gaining confidence in pronunciation of text.”
Since then, Jacqueline has continued her professional development with a Pettman DARE Fellowship in Music Education and Community Engagement. Despite COVID-19 bringing her back from the United Kingdom earlier than expected, she has continued part of her fellowship with New Zealand Opera, completed a postgraduate diploma online and lined up numerous directing engagements well into 2021.
She says the Foundation’s scope to assist those who are more established to take professional development opportunities when they might not otherwise be able to was one that she deeply appreciated.
From 2008 the Foundation has partnered with the Lockwood New Zealand Aria to provide the $20,000 first prize in this prestigious singing competition, held annually in Rotorua.
“The New Zealand Aria win was a pivotal point in my soul search to become a singer,” says Pene. “At the time, I was finishing up my studies and I decided to take on the Aria as a sort of test to see where I rank with New Zealand singers. Winning meant so much because I realised my potential. I realised that maybe, I could have something special.”
The prize opened the door for Pene to compete in the prestigious McDonalds Aria in Sydney. The following year he won the competition and was shoulder tapped by Dennis O’Neil at the Wales International Academy of Voice to study his Master’s. “None of this would have been possible without the prize. If it were not for the New Zealand Aria, I would never have gone to Australia to compete, and would never have been heard in that capacity.”
From there, he went on to become a Merolini with San Francisco Opera then an Adler Fellow. Today he is a successful freelance opera singer with international engagements lined up years ahead.
Pene says Dame Malvina has played an instrumental part in his career. “Dame Malvina always encouraged me to pursue greatness and she saw something in me at a time I doubted myself. The support from the Foundation gave me the chance – that’s all you need, the chance to see what you could achieve. If it were not for the Foundation, I would have had a completely different trajectory.”
This scholarship was offered from 2010 to 2019, in recognition of the late Sir Howard Morrison’s unique talents. It was backed by two of his friends, Sir Owen Glenn, who funded the scholarship, and Dame Malvina who provided the vocal tuition.
Joel says it was a huge honour to be selected for this scholarship – and a bit of a surprise. “I shared the scholarship with a great friends Jarvis Dams and Madison Nonoa. I was still a young buck in my singing career at the time so it was the extra inspiration and support I needed to really tell myself maybe I do have a good enough voice.”
He says the scholarship really opened up an inner confidence he never knew he had. “For me, it meant that I have to learn how to work hard, sing well and stay healthy. Without these foundations I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Since 2015 his opera career has been on a steady rise, including winning the Lexus Song Quest in 2018 and being selected as a Dame Malvina Major Foundation Young Artist with New Zealand Opera in 2019.
“Having the support of the Dame Malvina Major Foundation has been an absolute blessing and a confidence booster. Thank you for continuously looking out for me and having my best interests at heart, even when I don’t know them myself.”
Over the years, the Dame Malvina Major Foundation has provided prizes for regional aria competitions across the country, offering invaluable performance and competition experience for promising young singers.
Winning the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Wellington Aria was an integral step in Christian’s emerging career. He says it helped him transition from studying at the New Zealand School of Music—Te Kōkī, to becoming a Dame Malvina Major Foundation Emerging Artist with New Zealand Opera, then heading to New York to start his Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music. He was later accepted for Minnesota Opera’s prestigious Resident Artist program.
The aria prize funded his initial applications and audition trip to the United States. “Looking back, it was so enormously important! Without the prize, I would not have been able to apply to a variety of programs, and may not have been able to make the trip at all. So my current career would be in a very different state without that prize.”
Christian says having support back home has always been key. “But what this support has really meant in real terms is opportunity. It has given me the opportunity to explore the various options abroad. Whenever I speak of the Foundation’s support and network to colleagues, they are always gobsmacked and quite envious!”
This article was originally published in our 30th Anniversary Special Edition of Rhapsody (Summer 2020/21). Download the pdf.