Hawke's Bay baritone Phillip Rhodes says he has had a "wonderfully amazing experience" performing with the Royal Opera in the United Kingdom.

Mr Rhodes, who is the foster son of Hastings District councillor Henare O'Keefe, was chosen for a new scheme which offers cover roles to promising singers. The scheme was made possible by a 70,00 ($136,228) donation from the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, in recognition of Dame Kiri's 70th birthday and her long association with Covent Garden in London.

Mr Rhodes, who is the first recipient of the award, was cover the role of Enrico in Katie Mitchell's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor.

In a report back to the foundation, he said he was "filled with pride and excitement" when he first heard he had been awarded the cover role.


"First of all proud that I might even be considered, but also that it was made possible in part, by the lifetime of hard work by a New Zealand hero. I was of course very excited to learn I would be considered to cover the role of Enrico in Katie Mitchell's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor."

His first day on the job came a few weeks earlier than expected due to French Baritone, Ludovic Tezier, becoming indisposed. He spent the first few days rehearsing and then went straight into the show.

"During the next few days (and weeks) I was continually pinching myself. Being in the 'R.O.H' environment is amazing, stressful, but satisfyingly so. The stress comes from seeing the demands put on performers. The satisfaction when seeing those demands met.

"This show however seemed much more emotionally demanding than any which I have witnessed before (particularly for the title role) and the performers in this particular production were not only openly attempting everything thrown at them, but achieving, and often surpassing the demands."

Mr Rhodes said he had learnt a great deal from Mr Tezier.

"He is a wonderful singer and a great colleague, and I felt very lucky to watch him closely over the weeks. It's also nice to talk rugby to another fanatic from time to time, even if they are French supporters!"

His biggest thanks, however, was to the Royal Opera House and the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, for creating an opportunity that he would be forever grateful for.

"From day one of rehearsal through to my final moments on the Royal Opera House stage to enjoying the show from the directors box in the company of Dame Kiri, the Covers Award has been a wonderfully amazing experience, filled with learning and great opportunities to work with the best in the world of opera," he said.

Mr O'Keefe said yesterday that he and his wife Pam were "so so proud of Phillip".

"His hard work and commitment is paying off big time. One hundred-plus concerts booked around the world this year alone. He's travelled and performed at places I could only dream of."

He said they were grateful to the likes of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa who supported and pushed Mr Rhodes right from the beginning and to Patrick Powers who could take credit for discovering him.

"Phillip has not only broken the cycle, he's smashed it to smithereens. Despite the odds being stacked against him he's succeeded where possibly others would have surrendered. But more importantly he's flourished to become a wonderful husband, daddy and person."