Review: Perfection sits in third

By William Dart

The Lexus Song Quest finalists are (from left): Filipe Manu, Madison Nonoa, Benson Wilson and Tavis Gravatt pictured with international judge Yvonne Kenny.
The Lexus Song Quest finalists are (from left): Filipe Manu, Madison Nonoa, Benson Wilson and Tavis Gravatt pictured with international judge Yvonne Kenny.

The final of the Lexus Song Quest celebrated the competition's 60 years in style, with Stuart Maunder as a smooth and savvy MC.

Head Judge Yvonne Kenny had let it be known that she would be taking various skills into account, from vocal beauty to a less easily defined star quality. Once again, though, it was apparent that tonight's performances were not the sole factor in her final decision.

The evening set off with lieder and art songs, partnered by the exceptional Terence Dennis at the piano. An unusual Lilburn setting of Denis Glover from Filipe Manu seemed too intimate for the hall, while Tavis Gravatt plummeted from the sublime to the less illustrious, pairing Schubert with Les Miz.

Madison Nonoa's Schwarzkopf-like ability to pinpoint the sweetest of notes served her well in Strauss and Britten, while Benson Wilson's lusty Poulenc made one long for lyrics to appreciate fully the baritone's sly humour.

Two arias apiece, with the solid support of the NZSO under Edo de Waart, brought out a clear winner in Wilson, reprising the Korngold that had earned him runner-up status in 2014.

Perhaps Manu's cheeky saunter through the orchestra during the introduction to his Donizetti aria took him to second place, although it was Nonoa, in third, who came up with Mozartian perfection in a soul-melting "Ach, ich fuhl's".

What: Lexus Song Quest
Where: Auckland Town Hall

- NZ Herald

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