Opera students ready to sing

By Lin Ferguson

Imogen Thirlwall missed out studying voice her first time round at university, so she chose to learn the trumpet while she waited to try out again the following year.

The 23-year-old soprano from Tauranga studies at Wellington's Victoria University and is part of the intake at this year's New Zealand Opera School at Wanganui Collegiate School.

She has become so keen on the trumpet she couldn't give it away. She not only sings opera, she plays jazz trumpet in the New Zealand Music School Big Band, led by jazz veteran Rodger Fox. She has already recorded four albums with the big band.

Thirlwall has completed a BA degree in English, studies classical performance music and admits with a wide grin that she doesn't have a lot of spare time.

Her love for music shines out as she talks about playing trumpet with the big band and her vocal training with two of New Zealand's best teachers - Margaret Medlyn and Richard Greager, who are also tutors at the opera school.

"I think I'm just so lucky to be so involved in music."

And being at school for a second year is a huge bonus, she said.

"The opera school is just the greatest place to come to and we are so well looked after here."

Tongan teenager Phillip Akau agrees.

It's his first time at the school but it's one of the best things he's ever done, he said.

"It is so great ... I tell my Mum that, but she still texts me every day to see if I'm okay."

From Year 7 when he was aged 11, he was granted a scholarship to Dilworth School in Auckland.

Dilworth is an independent private full boarding school for boys in Auckland. All the boys attending are on full scholarships covering all education and boarding costs, as the school is owned and operated by a charitable trust. It is for boys from families in difficult circumstances.

Akau is the youngest in a family of four boys with a solo mother.

At Dilworth he was introduced to classical music by music master Ian Campbell, the assistant director of the New Zealand Opera School, and he has loved it ever since.

He always sang in the choir and went on from there to one-on-one vocal tuition.

Now into the third year of his music degree, Akau is changing from Auckland University to Waikato University this year to train with Dame Malvina Major, he said.

A special moment for him last year was singing with Pene Pati, a tenor who is studying in Wales with his younger brother Amitai who won the 2012 Lexus Song Quest.

He shared the stage with Pati in the lead role in the small opera by Bellini titled La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) in two acts.

"I really enjoyed it I look forward to more opera performance, I really do."

He smiles when he said his three older brothers don't sing at all. "No, it is only me."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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