Singing praises of young talent

By Lin Ferguson

New Zealand is now at the forefront of the operatic world, especially with a number of young singers doing well overseas, New Zealand Opera School's new director Jonathan Alver says.

"Which is extraordinary considering the population."

The annual New Zealand Opera School, known as boot camp for young opera singers, started yesterday at Wanganui Collegiate School.

It runs until January 12, culminating in a final night concert at the Royal New Zealand Opera House titled Great Opera Moments.

Today there is a lunchtime recital at noon in Heritage House in St Hill St.

Public masterclasses will be held at the Prince Edward Auditorium, Collegiate, at 7.30pm on Monday, January 7, and Thursday, January 10, and there are cafe performances on Wednesday, January 9, at 7pm at Quality Inn Collegiate, Red Lion Inn and The Grand Hotel.

Mr Alver said the New Zealand Opera School in Wanganui has always been very special to him and as its director he hopes to use his contacts to push the reputation of the school overseas.

But the Wanganui link will always be precious, he said.

"Because the people here are so passionate about these young singers and opera.

"And, of course, with the school based here, it is truly owned and loved by the people of Wanganui."

Mr Alver said working with young performers has always been close to his heart.

"Young singers and young actors are wonderful. And young New Zealand singers are going from strength to strength, they are starting to make a real impact."

He was just 18 years old when he headed off to study performance opera at Royal Northern College of Music, in Manchester - one of the most acclaimed music colleges in Britain, Mr Alver said.

"But after the training I was told that I couldn't sing opera until my voice was ready, and that was at least five or six years away. My voice was still far too young."

Undeterred, he decided to study directing and has never looked back.

"I found my real niche was not on stage ... it was behind the scenes, directing and making sure everything ran to plan."

With a ready smile and a warm, embracing personality, Mr Alver endears himself to people instantly.

He has clocked up more than 25 years' experience in theatrical, screen and event production and direction in both the UK and New Zealand, including in London's West End.

And he has come to this year's opera school straight from the studios of Shortland Street, where he has been one of the directors for four years.

"I know ... from soap opera to opera ..."

But his strong point and huge love is opera. His first opera in New Zealand in 1995 was Opera New Zealand's production of Charles Gounod's Faust.

He later established and led the NBR New Zealand Opera. Just a year later, the then Opera New Zealand made Mr Alver artistic director. With the help of opera veteran and Opera School chairman Donald Trott, Mr Alver merged Opera New Zealand, an originally Auckland-focused company, with the National Opera of Wellington to form the NBR New Zealand Opera.

And it is a desire to see young performers develop that led him to set up the emerging artist programme.

"It means young people can spend a whole year learning from, and performing with, the New Zealand Opera company.

"It's one thing to be a young singer in a country like the UK, where there are lots of people to train you. It's even more difficult in a country like New Zealand with such a small population."

But young New Zealand singers are more than coming into their own, he said.

"We have some very exciting young singers coming through."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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