1. What was the first piece(s) you learned? How did your early musical tuition lead to your present vocation?
The first piece I ever learned and performed solo was Pokarekare Ana, at about the age of 8 - this is a traditional New Zealand song which I sang as part of junior Kapa Haka (Maori song & dance) competition. As children, legends and myths told through song and dance of ancestry, land and its people are a very big part of New Zealand culture, I think hearing, learning and performing these songs had a profound influence in music playing a substantial role in my life.
2. Is your family musical?
Yes, although Classical music was not present at home, my Mum is a very good blue grass Mandolin player and has a lovely beautiful folk voice, in my early childhood she played in folk bands and clubs. My eldest sister is a rock guitarist and middle sister plays the Drums. My Dad however is completely tone deaf!
3. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
I admire so many famous musicians, for their sheer commitment to their art. I am a huge Maria Callas fan because of her commitment to the text, and dedication to truth of any piece she sings, I admire the agility and impressive pyrotechnics of Joan Sutherland, the beauty of sound of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Renee Fleming, the incredible positivity and technique of Joyce di Donato (so wonderful to have a young present role model in opera!)… and so many more…!
4. You studied at the Cardiff International Academy of Voice. Can you tell us who your mentor was and your impressions of your time in that institution please?
I was lucky enough to study at Cardiff International Academy when it was only 12 students in a practical training program, which did not have to fit within the restrictions of an academically backed Master’s degree. This was an incredible opportunity, with multiple one-on-one coaching’s each day and at least two lessons a week. I was mentored by Dennis O’Neill, who I truly believe to be the best vocal technician in the world, and I was lucky enough to work with language and musical coaches from the Royal Opera House and many other international houses. I also had the opportunity to sing in master classes with incredible artists like Richard Bonynge, Carlo Rizzi, Dame Josephine Barstow, Nelly Miriciou, June Anderson and Rebecca Evans.
5. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
Where do I begin… I have pretty fond memories of singing with my mum when I was little, and of singing and playing guitar with family and friends growing up. Singing on the stage of the Sydney Opera House was pretty amazing, as was filling in for Dame Kiri who had a cold for the end of academia concert in Italy. Singing a stage and orchestral as Violetta from La Traviata for the Vienna Festival at 5 minutes notice was also very exciting, as was singing a stage and orchestral as Konstanze from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail last year with Garsington Opera.
6. Tell us about your first operatic role?
The first full role that I performed was Carolina from Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto for the Barga Opera Festival in Italy, it is a role not dissimilar to Susannah from Le Nozze di Figaro. It was wonderful to sing my first opera in Italian in Italy, a great learning experience.
7. Can you tell us about your period when you were an English National Opera Opera Works Artist?
I absolutely loved Opera Works, as I did not ever attend a formal conservatory opera school ENO Opera Works was my first introduction and exploration into working scenes each month with different directors and different styles of acting, movement and ideas. It allowed me a free and safe space to try things amongst peers and push the conventional boundaries. It was also a wonderful opportunity to be coached by ENO’s music staff and get a better idea on repertoire choice and the expectation of singing in a large opera house.
8. You were the winner of the 28th Premio Lirico Internazionale Piero Boni competition in Italy. What year was this and which pieces did you perform?
That was 2010, I sang the aria Chi bel sogno di Doretta from La Rondine by Puccini.
9. What advice would you give to those who wish to embark on a professional concert music career?
Think long and hard about it! Everyone should pursue their dreams, but a musician’s life is not always easy, it is wonderful and a privilege when you are doing it, but there are often large periods of instability and unsureness where you must fill the time with creatively stumping jobs in order to keep afloat. I would never discourage anyone from a life of music but I would recommend backing it up with a teaching paper or another skill.
10. You studied as a Solti-Te Kanawa Accademia scholar and with Mirella Freni as part of the Centro Universale del Bel Canto masterclasses. Can you tell us more about his period of development and how it felt to work with these people?
I came to classical music very late and in a non-traditional way I suppose, through a reality TV show called Operatunity Oz, at this stage I was hoping to make a career as a guitar maker… Anyway, I was lucky enough to do well in the show and was encouraged to pursue a career as an Opera Singer, so I thought why not. (Ignorance is bliss - as the saying goes) Shortly after the show, I was about to travel to London to visit friends for a few months and decided it would be good to visit Italy perhaps see some opera or have some lessons, I googled singing master classes, and Mirella Freni’s Centro Universale del Bel Canto master classes appeared, auditions were the night before the classes started, so I decided to give it a shot. I was lucky enough to be one of 12 chosen to participate in the master classes. It was a very eye opening experience, especially as I spoke pigeon Italian and the master classes were carried out in Italian. I also had no formal training behind me, but was selected, I think, as a piece of raw talent. Every day for two weeks I would stand in front of Mirella Freni and the public, and amongst other things she would say things like ‘why you always sing from the throat, you sound like a donkey’ at the time, it was difficult and humiliating, but also quite amusing. After the two weeks with Freni, I had a new knowledge and understanding of Italian singing which has proven absolutely invaluable and has led me on to a love of the Italianate style of singing.
My training at the Solti-TeKanawa Academia was a very different experience as I had just finished my training with Dennis O’Neill in Cardiff and was more technically stable. It was a great opportunity and a very positive experience working with international level artists including Dame Kiri and Jose Carreras. I feel very lucky to have experienced this.
11. How often and for how long do you practice?
It depends how you define practice… If I am working technically on something, I work in a super focussed 45 minute block, like an athlete, ideally this happens daily, I listen, look and memorise music every day for at least 2 hours. I try to have a weekly lesson and a weekly coaching. If I am preparing a role I look at it in most spare moments. But I work an office job as well 4 days a week in order to fund my career, I always wish I had more time to practice!
12. You are currently mentored by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. How does it feel like to be mentored by this fellow New Zealander who has become a legend in her life-time?
Dame Kiri and I were born and bred in the same very small town Gisborne in New Zealand. She took me under her wing when I came to the UK, which was very nice of her, and has taken on the role as Kiwi Mum, to not just me but a lot of young NZ singers who are based throughout the UK. She is indeed a legend who has achieved extraordinary things. She can be a tough cookie, with very high expectations, but she is always there with advice and to help when I needed it. I feel very fortunate for the time that she has invested in me.
13. Do you or would you like to teach music?
I don’t teach one-on-one but I have taught groups of students, which has been fabulous fun. I mentored for a music project two years running in an autistic school in South London, which was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had. Seeing the change music can make to ones live and why music is so important for the soul revived my desire to keep striving to be a musician. I love working with kids and on community projects and I certainly admire full time music teachers for their patience and perseverance.
14. If you could be granted to perform alongside an operatic star living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would’ve loved to have sung Verdi opposite Pavarotti, can you imagine!
15. Is there one piece you still would like to perform?
I want to perform the role of Violetta at ROH, La Scala and the Met.
16. Can you tell us about your future projects please?
I am currently in the extra chorus at English National Opera, I am working on Terry Gilliam’s production of Benvenuto Cellini then Otello after summer. In August I have a couple of concerts in Sicily and Northern Italy and then I will be preparing for the autumn audition season.