The Lexus Song Quest has a special place in our musical calendar and ongoing cultural history. The slogan of its generous sponsor invites us to experience amazing classical singing and one is indeed astonished at the wealth of singing talent that New Zealand produces and fosters.

The five singers chosen by judge Lisa Gasteen for the weekend's Grand Final Gala would be assessed on more than just their few minutes on the Town Hall stage, wittily introduced by MC Clarissa Dunn.

The opening round of songs, with that doyen of pianists, Terence Dennis, was rather on the light side, from Eliza Boom's nostalgic Eric Coates drawing-room ballad to Joel Amosa's high-powered spiritual, admittedly with Aaron Copland dressing.

Two turns with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Stephen Mould offered the opportunity to diversify.


Boom, later named runner-up, impressed with dramatic Gounod and Mozart arias, and some deliciously pointed recitative.

Filipe Manu, runner-up in 2016, received a Kiri Te Kanawa scholarship from the soprano herself. He was an elegantly phrased Tamino from The Magic Flute but showed some vocal tightness in Donizetti bel canto.

Amosa, a familiar and much-loved Auckland performer, took away top prize with a thrilling aria from Verdi's Ernani and an individual, cheeky take on Mozart's Non piu andrai.

Summing up, Gasteen stressed that singers must choose age-suitable repertoire, coupling Joe Haddow and Manase Latu, at 22, as having time on their side.

While Haddow struggled to convince as Verdi's tragic, ageing Philip II, Latu was, for me, the star of the evening. He wooed us with Richard Tauber and a sauntering Lalo aria, and brought forth the fire of ecstasy as Benjamin Britten's Saint Nicolas.

Watch out for him in 2020.

What: Lexus Song Quest Grand Final Gala
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall on Saturday
Reviewed by: William Dart