For baritone Moses Mackay stepping out on stage to deliver some beautiful notes is nothing new - he has been part of the Sol3 Mio trio of opera-influenced vocal artisans since they formed in Auckland five years ago.

But taking the lead role in an opera will be something new.

Next February, when the fourth Festival Opera is staged over three performances at the Napier Municipal Theatre, he will leave the Sol3 Mio tuxedo at home and arrive instead in the colourful garb of a bullfighter - a handsome bullfighter by the name of Escamillo.

And Escamillo has a lady called Carmen in his affectionate sights.


At a special breakfast launch last Thursday at the Old Church in Meeanee the Hawke's Bay Festival Opera announced that Carmen, one of the most popular and frequently performed operas, will be the company's feature performance of 2017.

And, as Festival Opera creative director Anna Pierard said, they are very excited to bring the magic of Bizet's passionate and scandalous tale to life with a truly world-class cast.

When the line-up was announced it was clear that everyone present realised they would be in for an absolutely sensational operatic experience.

Internationally acclaimed soprano Anna Leese, who was born in Napier and now lives in Tuscany, will play the role of Micaela, which she had previously played at the Royal Opera House in London.

And also aboard are two international stars of opera - award-winning Russian mezzo Nadezhda Karyazina will play the fiery gypsy Carmen while Australian tenor Matthew Reardon will take to the stage as Don Jose - a naive soldier boy who is seduced by Carmen's wiles and ways.

And the cast list just gets stronger with Samoan bass-baritone Joel Amosa and up-and-coming mezzo soprano Pasquale Orchard.

As he has in past festival operas, Jose Aparicio, who emigrated to New Zealand in 2009 after an illustrious musical career in Europe, will direct and conduct.

While Mr Mackay has performed in operatic productions before, and sung the work of composer Bizet, the Napier performances will be his first in a leading role, and he is looking forward to it.


"Any nerves? ... no, I'm just really excited to be part of it," Mr Mackay said.

He had wanted to take such a role for a long time but said the opportunities all arrived at the wrong time, due to his other musical commitments.

But after he was approached by Festival Opera creative director Anna Pierard and Sarah Walmsley he did some calendar sums and discovered that yes, with a bit of shuffling he could make the February opera performances, although it will be a tight fit.

Sol3 Mio are embarking on a December tour "when all the boys are back in town" and also have concerts scheduled for Hawaii.

"They fall in the rehearsal time for this, but we are able to work around it."

What also spurred him to accept the role was the opportunity to work with the young students of the Project Prima Volta (PPV) which was created and is steered by Ms Pierard.

He had heard about the PPV and was full of praise for it and the way it inspired young people to explore music.

"For these young people it is the passion, the power of the music - it is everything."

At the breakfast three of the young male members performed a stunning version of Yellow Bird, with a slight Sol3 Mio touch to it, which drew huge applause, and a big smile from Mr Mackay.

"They are great," he said, adding he was looking forward to sharing the Carmen stage with those of them who would be among the cast.

Ms Pierard said while she had sung in past Festival Operas, this time it would be an off-stage experience.

Getting Moses Mackay on board was, she said, "a real coup".

"I have always wanted him to sing in an opera for us as he has such a beautiful voice and so much charisma," she said, adding the opportunity for her young PPV voices to appear with him, and watch him at work close-hand, was invaluable.

"We are so excited to bring the magic of Bizet's celebrated opera to life in Hawke's Bay with such a world-class cast."

She said the line-up would appeal to "seasoned" opera lovers but would also attract first-time performance goers.

● Festival Opera's Carmen will be staged during the Tremains Art Deco Festival with performances scheduled for February 14, 16 and 18. Tickets are set to go on sale on tomorrow through Ticketek and will range in price from $50 to $85.