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New era of opera training launched in New Zealand at Waikato University

An opera studio focused on career readiness for talented young New Zealand singers has been launched at the University of Waikato.

Te Pae Kōkako – The Aotearoa New Zealand Opera Studio is the long-held vision of Dame Malvina Major, a Senior Fellow in Music at the University of Waikato. She has long wanted to see New Zealand’s brightest young opera stars trained in country, without having to face the large costs and family separations caused by having further training overseas before joining the industry.

In its inaugural year in 2023, five promising young opera singers will be chosen from across the country for the immersive Master of Music programme in Advanced Opera Studies at the University of Waikato. Te Pae Kōkako – The Aotearoa New Zealand Opera Studio (TANZOS) will provide training from national and international tutors, and the opera students will travel to residencies in New Zealand and abroad. It is the first programme of its kind in New Zealand to combine academic rigour with immersive industry training.

The programme is headed by New Zealand soprano, Madeleine Pierard, the inaugural Dame Malvina Major Chair in Opera at the University of Waikato. Ms Pierard is an internationally-recognised opera singer who has recently returned from London to take up this position alongside her international career. Her role is funded by Hamilton philanthropists Sir William and Judi, Lady Gallagher to acknowledge Dame Malvina’s legacy.

Ms Pierard says the programme will include intensive repertoire coaching, language coaching, stagecraft and even resilience work to help singers navigate the specific challenges that life as a freelance opera singer presents.

“Students will also have regular performance opportunities, will prepare and perform three full opera roles and will receive career planning help,” she says. “The most unique aspect of the programme is that we will be providing industry connections for our singers with international companies and artists without them facing the crippling financial strain of studying at an overseas conservatoire.

“In our first year, we will be hosting guest tutors such as British baritone, Sir Simon Keenlyside, and Elaine Kidd and David Gowland, Head and Artistic Director of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden respectively, to work with the singers both individually and in masterclasses that will be open to the public. We will also be sending our singers to engage in immersive industry residencies with Opera Australia, New Zealand Opera and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.”

Says Ms Pierard: “This programme will truly provide a springboard for Aotearoa’s stunning young singers and I am so pleased that we are able to bring this long-held vision of Dame Malvina to the fore.”

Places on the programme will be donor-funded, with the Dame Malvina Major Foundation leading the way in funding two places. Chair David Jackson says the Dame Malvina Major Foundation has always supported young singers and the new approach to training by the University of Waikato has won their backing. “As an organisation with a long-standing focus on the training and development of young New Zealand artists, we are excited by the opportunity this new programme presents. It is the perfect training ground for young opera singers embarking on international careers in this much-loved and respected artform.”

Dame Malvina says it has long been her goal to have a comprehensive training programme for young New Zealand singers covering all aspects of being a performer. “We already know that our young New Zealand singers have so much talent and potential, let’s give them the head start they need here at home to succeed in their international careers. Te Pae Kōkako – The Aotearoa New Zealand Opera Studio is a dream come true for me. I am very invested in its success and that of its young singers.”

Professor Patrick Leman, who leads the Division of Arts, Law, Psychology and Social Sciences at the University of Waikato, says the Advanced Opera Studies programme will help ensure Music at the university is a beacon and a resource for the whole community.

“This is a new era of opera training in New Zealand, with a really collaborative approach with partners, agencies and supporters in the community. It is very pleasing for us to help realise Dame Malvina’s vision of launching amazing singers onto the world stage by fully preparing them for the rigours of international performance.”

Professor Leman says he has been impressed by the level of support for the programme from opera supporters. “New Zealand has a great depth of support and love for opera, combined with a desire for our young stars to make a difference on the world stage. All these years after Dame Malvina started her international career, it is wonderful to provide a world-class programme and venue to train these future Olympians of the singing world.”

The programme was launched at a special event held at the Gallagher home in August, featuring current University of Waikato vocal students and alumni. The event was attended by supporters, partners, donors, and included University vocal alumnus, tenor Filipe Manu, who attended the event just days after winning the Lexus Song Quest. Watch a video of the launch event.

More information about the studio and programme can be found here.

This story was originally published on the University of Waikato website.





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