Malvina Major
Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit

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International opera diva Dame Malvina Major says her latest official accolade was a total surprise.

Dame Malvina, who was appointed an OBE in 1985 and a dame in 1991, becomes a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list announced today.

"It was a big surprise," she said while on holiday in the Coromandel seaside resort of Whangamata.

"I suppose that being a dame I didn't expect to get any more awards of any sort," Dame Malvina said.

"It certainly came as a complete surprise. It's lovely, really great."

Dame Malvina's PCNZM is equivalent to a Dame Grand Companion under the old New Zealand honours system - one rank higher than the Dame Companion she was made in 1991.

Recognised as an opera star internationally and as a teacher of renown in New Zealand, Dame Malvina won the 1963 Mobil Song Quest in which Kiri Te Kanawa was runner-up.

After winning the Melbourne Sun Aria competition, she studied at the London Opera Centre, where she won the Kathleen Ferrier contest.

Her international opera career has included 28 major roles, among them Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Cio Cio San in Madame Butterfly and the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro.

Dame Malvina's extensive concert oratorio and recital repertoire include the Verdi Requiem, Bach's St Matthew Passion and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

She has performed in many New Zealand events and as a cultural ambassador at New Zealand embassies in Brussels, The Hague, London, Paris and Washington.

Dame Malvina has been awarded honorary doctorates from Massey University and Waikato University and is a teaching professor in vocal studies at Canterbury University.

In 1992, the Dame Malvina Major Foundation was formed to support the training of young New Zealand artists.

Taking a break from her hectic calendar, Dame Malvina said she was facing another busy year.

"The year is full every week right through until the end of April."

She will again act as a cultural ambassador on a three-week tour in the United States.

"I work a lot and sing a lot. I'm always pretty busy."

Her latest honour, she said, was a further acknowledgment of her continuing career commitments.

"It's most gratifying, really, and lovely to think one's work is being appreciated."