Story: Opera and musical theatre

Page 6. Singers

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Vocal tuition

Teaching of performance singing began in New Zealand universities only in the 1960s.

In 2013 all major New Zealand universities had performance courses. The main university schools for vocal and opera studies were Auckland University and the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, and there were significant strengths at Canterbury, Otago and Waikato universities. The National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA), part of Christchurch Polytechnic, was known for teaching popular vocal styles, including musical theatre.

The New Zealand Opera School, Whanganui, ran an intensive training course for promising singers during January of each year. A biennial summer school, the New Zealand Singing School at the Eastern Institute of Technology in Napier, catered for opera as well as other singing styles.

Student productions

Performances by students have for many years provided some of the most adventurous and exploratory opera experiences, with premieres of New Zealand works at Otago, Auckland and Victoria universities in the 1980s.

The Victoria University and Massey University music schools merged to create the New Zealand School of Music in 2006. Each had traditions of annual student productions from the 1970s. By 2013 the school was producing an opera every alternate year. In Auckland a similar role was filled by Opera Factory, run by former opera singer Sally Sloman. From 1993 it staged numerous interesting productions.

New Zealand opera singers

New Zealand resident singers were rare among the many companies that toured New Zealand from the 1860s until the mid-20th century. Frances Alda and Rosina Buckman were the first to establish international careers, around the turn of the 20th century, but it was another 30 years or so before another New Zealander had the same success.

Three basses to emerge from the late 1930s to 1960 were among the greatest of their eras: Oscar Natzka, Īnia Te Wīata and Noel Mangin. There were also two very distinguished baritones – Denis Dowling and Bryan Drake – who sang mainly at Sadler’s Wells, specialising in Britten’s works.

From around 1960 the flow of New Zealand singers to Australia, Europe and America burgeoned. Donald McIntyre and Kiri Te Kanawa were the most famous, but others who gained distinction included Heather Begg, Patricia Payne, Conal Coad, Grant Dickson, Malvina Major and Barry Mora. Especially notable were tenors: Peter Baillie, Christopher Doig, Richard Greager, Keith Lewis and Patrick Power.

From around 1980 increasing numbers were graduating from the expanding tertiary music schools. However, this was also happening in the rest of the world, with a boom in classical music in Asian countries and the opening of doors from Eastern Europe. Among those New Zealanders attaining international careers were Ana James, Anna Leese, Jonathan Lemalu, Simon O’Neill, Madeleine Pierard, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Martin Snell, Wendy Dawn Thompson and Paul Whelan.

For the record

Magazines are a means of promoting and reviewing productions and are sources for future historians. The newsletter of the New Zealand Opera Society began in 1960 and continued as Opera News (later New Zealand Opera News) in 1976. Musical theatre was documented from 1961 by Musical Theatre New Zealand’s magazine Spotlight, and in 2013 it was still going as an online publication.

Other prominent figures

Prominent New Zealand conductors of opera and musical theatre include Warwick Braithwaite, John Matheson, Tecwyn Evans and William Southgate. The latter two are also composers.

Well-known set and costume designers include Raymond Boyce, Kristian Fredrikson, Allan Lees and John Verryt. Important directors include Jonathan Hardy, Raymond Hawthorne, Elric Hooper, Colin McColl, Jacqueline Coats and Sara Brodie.

How to cite this page:

Lindis Taylor, 'Opera and musical theatre - Singers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 November 2021)

Story by Lindis Taylor, published 22 Oct 2014