Prizes, Prima Donnas and Pony-Tails

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Tue, 2018-07-24 04:25

"The only thing better than singing," said Ella Fitzgerald, "is more singing." There's been a singing-fest in New Zealand these past few days, of a kind that reminds us that opera singing in particular is one of the great glories of humanity.

Last Friday saw a concert performance of Verdi's Aida presented by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in association with New Zealand Opera. Verdi was arguably, for those who enjoy such arguments, the greatest, and Aida was arguably his best. This performance, even without the elephants, was thrilling. Livestreamed from the Auckland Town Hall by the whizz-kids of JX Live, with audio courtesy of RNZ Concert, this was a sizzlingly satiating smorgasbord of the solos, duets and sundry ensembles that comprise this infinite feast of melody.

Going by the names it was just about an all-Italian cast, though the Russian Olesya Petrova as Amneris was in my opinion the standout. Good to see handsome young New Zealand tenor Oliver Sewell back to do a cameo too. Orchestra and chorus were exemplary.

Still basking in the glow of that performance, one made one's way into Wellington the next day—by train, as is one's sedate geriatric wont—for the semi-finals of the biennial Lexus Song Quest. At a certain point the train was boarded by a youth sporting earphones and a pony-tail. "Dizzy moronnial," one harrumphed to oneself. One was agreeably astonished to see said "dizzy moronnial" dive into his bag and pull out a music score labelled "Gounod." Lo and behold, the next time one saw him was at the Lexus—his name was Joe Haddow, he was a baritone, and he was one of the ten semi-finalists!

Joe Haddow made it through to the finals, not with Gounod but with Fauré, Schumann and Mozart. All ten semi-finalists sang themselves proud, and the audience audibly agreed with Head Judge Lisa Gasteen when she said, prior to announcing the finalists, she was sure none of us would want to be in her position at that moment.

The other successful contestants were tenors Filipe Manu and Manase Latu, bass-baritone Joel Amosa and soprano Eliza Boom. To single out the performance of any one of them would be an injustice to the others; if they all sing in the finals this coming Saturday as they did in the semis, the outcome is excruciatingly finely poised. Don't be surprised, however, if, in the venerable singing contest that is Lexus (formerly Mobil), a certain baritone with a pony-tail and a Gounod score ends up at or very near the top.