Australian soprano and Anglophile Penelope Mills is looking forward to an evening filled with fun

When the annual Last Night of the Proms takes over the Town Hall on Thursday, it's the nearest Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra comes to staging a public party.

Two months ago, on the other side of the world, the BBC Symphony's Last Night featured singing along to The Sound of Music, the seasoned soul of the Jackson Five and Benjamin Grosvenor playing a Shostakovich piano concerto.

Antics included tenor heart-throb Jonas Kaufmann having a pair of knickers flung at him, the sort of audience approbation more expected on the Tom Jones circuit.

Though it's pretty unlikely that the APO's guest, Penelope Mills, will inspire an enthusiastic punter to part with a pair of Y-fronts, she does say she is looking forward to an evening of fun. "And I do have some surprises up my sleeve when I sing Rule Britannia," she adds.


This is the Australian soprano's fourth appearance with the orchestra. I vividly remember a Carmina Burana in 2011 in which I was impressed by how Mills "reconciled eroticism with a top D, at the end of a most graceful ascent".

Mills is a great fan of Auckland's favourite orchestra. "I like the mix of local players with musicians from around the world.

"You can hear how wonderful the individual players are, but when they're together, it's a really tight-knit bunch."

As a young singer, she may have chosen Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music for further studies, but Joan Sutherland back home always remained her ultimate role model.

"Sutherland taught me about practice and how important it is. In fact, Australians and New Zealanders seem to share the same ethic of hard work. We're known for it, as an American conductor recently told me."

Mills' particular brand of industriousness has served her well. In 2013, she worked with British composer Thomas Ades, when Melbourne Symphony Orchestra presented extracts from his opera, The Tempest; she has just learned that next year she will be premiering a new work for soprano and orchestra by Australian Carl Vine.

"There's nothing more thrilling than working with a living composer and being the first one to perform a piece," she exclaims. "With Thomas Ades, I was able to ask him what he wanted - what a gift! How many times have musicians wished they could ask Mozart the same question?"

For all the soprano's fearless embracing of the contemporary, I suspect she is a traditionalist at heart. Though one cannot imagine fierce republican spirits across the Tasman warming to the inevitable Anglophilia of the Last Night of the Proms, Mills is cool, calm and unconcerned.


"I have a great love for Britain. I've lived there and my husband is a Londoner. The whole argument for Australia as a republic is understandable but I'm not for it. I love the history that we have with the royal family and the fact that we have that wonderful woman, Queen Elizabeth."

She even sees a Brit connection with one of her offerings next Thursday, Dvorak's Song to the Moon from his opera Rusalka.

"When I first sang it back in my teens, I thought it was the most magical of songs. But then, I've always loved everything about the moon. When my husband and I were courting and he was over in Britain, I used to think of him when I sang this aria, as if I were sending my love to him through the moon.

"On Thursday, though, it won't be necessary," she laughs. "He'll be in the audience."



Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra: Last Night of the Proms

Where and when:

Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 8pm