Aria is back for her 75th birthday at the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre.
“The quality of singers we have in New Zealand is just amazing,” says Jo-Anne La Grouw, event coordinator and chair of the Lockwood New Zealand Aria Competition.
She was delighted with the return of the prestigious Rotorua singing competition.
“We are the first competition, or the first event, in the renovated and reinforced Howard Morrison Performing Arts Center. And before it closed, we were the last event there.”
The finishing touches in the center were completed just in time for the Aria competition, which boasts alumni such as Dame Malvina Major and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, to open up to the world again on Saturday evening.
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La Grouw says the competition is unique.
“It’s the only singing competition in the world, where there’s no upper age limit…and you can come from any part of the world.”
Music teacher and former Aria Prize winner Elisha Hulton knows the importance of music and its impact on rangatahi.
“Music is life,” she said. “It helps you get through all the tough times.
“It’s my passion. It’s something you can share with anyone and everyone.
“It’s a universal language, and personally, I really fill my heart and my soul.”
Hulton sees a connection between opera and another popular form of musical performance.
“In Rotorua here in particular, that’s the heart of kapa haka. So as a music teacher here at boys’ high school, for example, I have a lot of students from that kapa haka background and I’ve the opportunity to teach them vocal techniques through classical music, and they are able to put this into practice in singing kapa haka.”
Several Hulton students competed in the under-21 class. Mathieu Boynton-Rata, 17, comes from a kapa haka background.
“Once I was introduced to this kind of singing style, it was like it completely changed my perspective on opera. I really thought it was like people were shouting, and now it’s something really beautiful,” he said.
For Nikau Chater, 14, another student from Hulton, the long wait was worth it.
“It’s cool because we put in a lot of work to be able to do this last year and now it’s gone and our hard work is going to pay off.”
Adults were also competing, including Maria Kapa, who played classical music in her whakapapa.
“A lot of our nannies here in Rotorua, in kapa haka, they all sang beautifully high and so we all grew up watching them and singing with them.”
Kapa studied opera at the University of Waikato where she learned the ropes, including breathing techniques and ways to stay calm on stage.
“It’s wairua, the spirit too, and you share that with people. It’s kind of like a spiritual experience, out of the body.”
With nearly 800 people at the new Sir Howard Morrison Theatre, excitement reached a crescendo.
The Grouw was straight back to work this week, looking for sponsors to secure another competition next year, and they know what they will say.
“The answer for me is, what do you want now?” she laughs. “Because I always come to them asking for money or something.
“I know some people in Rotorua really appreciate having the Aria in Rotorua. I don’t know if the wider community realizes how lucky we are to be able to keep it here.”