Like Donald McIntyre, Christopher Doig (1948–2011) had been headed towards a career as a school teacher. After winning the Mobil Song Quest in 1972 he studied at the Vienna Music Academy in Austria, and two years later was offered a position as principal tenor at the Vienna State Opera. Following a decade in Vienna singing major roles and appearing as a guest artist in other European opera houses, Doig returned to New Zealand to a series of a high-profile sporting and arts executive positions.
An informed choice
Christopher Doig was artistic director of the New Zealand Festival of the Arts in 1990, and was the driving force behind the audacious project of staging Wagner’s Die meistersinger von Nürnberg, starring Donald McIntyre. Doig himself had sung with McIntyre in the Australian Opera’s production of the work just two years previously.
Christchurch tenor Anson Austin spent three years with the BBC Singers in London in the 1960s, and in 1970 went on to a distinguished career with Australian Opera (often singing opposite Joan Sutherland), interlaced with performances at Glyndebourne (1975), San Francisco (1981) and Toronto (1982).
Other New Zealand singers have enjoyed success in Europe before returning to a more settled life in New Zealand.
After seven years as a principal baritone with the Frankfurt Opera from 1980, baritone Barry Mora embarked on a freelance career that included major roles at Covent Garden and the Welsh National Opera. From 1990 he based himself back in New Zealand, singing in numerous productions there and in Australia.
Bass-baritone Rodney Macann made his European debut in the title role in Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the Berlin Festival of 1970, at the invitation of conductor Lorin Maazel. Macann remained in Europe until 1990, initially performing mainly as a soloist in oratorio (large-scale narrative works for orchestra and singers). From the mid-1980s on he tackled some large operatic roles, including works by Michael Tippett, Peter Maxwell Davies and Alexander Goehr. Macann became a principal at the English National Opera and performed regularly at Covent Garden and Welsh National Opera. After his return to New Zealand, he sang in many local productions while, for a time, continuing to fulfil engagements in Europe.
Dunedin-born mezzo-soprano Patricia Payne had a brilliant career from the early 1970s, singing on many of the world’s great stages – Barcelona, Covent Garden, Bayreuth (including Patrice Chéreau’s Ring cycle alongside Donald McIntyre), San Francisco, Geneva, and La Scala in Milan. In April 1976 she was a huge success playing as the old nurse Filpyevna in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, in a Covent Garden production that included Kiri Te Kanawa as Tatyana and Heather Begg as Madam Larina. Wherever she sang Payne gained critical acclaim and the admiration of her colleagues, including conductors of the calibre of Pierre Boulez and Colin Davis.
The supporting cast
Two teachers were particularly important in training some of New Zealand’s finest singers. At Christchurch Boys’ High School the head of music, Clifton Cook, recognised and nurtured the talent of Richard Greager, Christopher Doig and Anson Austin. In Auckland, Sister Mary Leo of the Sisters of Mercy taught Heather Begg, Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa.
Tenor Richard Greager was taken into the company at Covent Garden within a short time of his arrival in London as a student in 1973. He spent several years with Scottish Opera and then, in 1977, went on to Hanover in Germany, where he worked his way through a multitude of roles. In the 1980s he sang with Australian Opera while still managing to keep up a busy schedule of opera performances and recordings in Europe. He settled back in New Zealand in the late 1990s and in 2014 was teaching at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington.
Tenor Patrick Power began singing opera while a student at Otago University in the late 1960s. He came to attention nationally through singing in Georges Bizet’s Carmen with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in their 1975 Summer Proms. In 1976 Power gained a three-year contract with the Norwegian national opera company. From there he moved to positions with opera companies in Munich and Krefeld in Germany. In the 1980s, as a freelance artist, he sang at Drottningholm in Sweden, Glyndebourne and Covent Garden in England, Scottish Opera, l’Opéra de Lyon in France and the Wexford Festival in Ireland. In the early 1990s Power began singing more for Australian Opera (later Opera Australia) and for New Zealand companies. He came back to New Zealand and taught singing at several tertiary institutions.
The list of opera houses in which Methven-born lyric tenor Keith Lewis sang from 1977 included Glyndebourne and Covent Garden in England, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Berlin (Deutsche Oper) in Germany, Paris (Bastille), San Francisco, Chicago – and many more.