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Young Sopranos Hit The High Notes

11 July 2006

Young Sopranos Hit The High Notes

The 2006-2007 Pricewaterhousecoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists

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The 2006-2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists take to the stage: Rachelle Pike, David Kelly, Sarah-Ann Walker and Catherine Norton, joined by Dame Malvina Major and John Harvey, Auckland Managing Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers.


Two young opera singers have been named as 2006-2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists by The NBR New Zealand Opera today. They are: Rachelle Pike (a mezzo-soprano from Blenheim and Christchurch) and Sarah-Ann Walker (a soprano from Christchurch) [subs: bio information follows]. They join two other Emerging Artists - repetiteurs, David Kelly and Catherine Norton – announced earlier this year.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists take steps towards a professional career in opera when they embark on a year-long internship with The NBR New Zealand Opera that immerses them in the artform.

With support from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Dame Malvina Major Foundation the internship continues to complement academic achievement by exposing the young performers to a learning environment that places emphasis on practical experience within the professional opera world. For singers, this includes tuition with leading vocal coaches and other industry professionals, as well as opportunities to perform and/or understudy minor and principal roles in The NBR New Zealand Opera productions during the year. The repetiteurs work closely alongside the opera company’s experienced music staff with opportunities to accompany principal production rehearsals as well as working with seasoned and emerging opera singers. A variety of solo and ensemble concert engagements are also a feature of the programme.

“Our young performers – whether they are singers or accompanists – deserve to have their chance to have their potential recognised and nurtured,” says Dame Malvina. “It is essential to continue to foster our grass-roots cultural talent – just as the sporting and business worlds do. However this can only happen with the ongoing support of organisations such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, my Foundation and the opera company, so that we can continue to shape our future performers through this programme, here in New Zealand.”

John Harvey, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Auckland managing partner, said it was clear the Emerging Artists had demonstrated leadership and excellence in their chosen fields. "As a firm these attributes are extremely important to us and our clients. We're very focused on recognising talented people and we're very proud to be supporting New Zealand's next generation of opera singers and repetiteurs."

Rachelle and Sarah-Ann follow in the steps of a now long list of young kiwi singers who are former Emerging Artists. Many have gone on to attain places at prestigious music colleges overseas to further their studies and are now starting to achieve success on opera stages and concert platforms around the world, including New Zealand.

Former Emerging Artists performing in The NBR New Zealand Opera’s 2006 seasons as professional performers on the cusp of their careers include Carla Parry (2003), Phillip Rhodes (2004) and Malcolm Ede (2005) who recently enjoyed memorable performances as Papagena, Monostatos and Priest/Armed Man in The NZI Winter Season of The Magic Flute. The National Tour of Don Pasquale taking to the road around New Zealand in August-September sees the return to New Zealand of Andrew Conley (2001, 2002), who together with Rhodes will share the role of Dr Malatesta.

Rhodes won the 2005 Lockwood Aria Competition; and Conley is a recent graduate of the Royal College of Music, London and the RCM’s prestigious Benjamin Britten International Opera School. James Harrison (2000), also a graduate of the Royal College and the National Opera Studio, London, returns to New Zealand to perform for the first time since leaving in 2001, in the role of Valentin in The Genesis Energy Spring Season of Faust. Alongside him, Kristen Darragh (2004) currently at The Royal College of Music, London, will perform as Siebel and Malcolm Ede as Wagner. Kristen has already performed roles with The NBR New Zealand Opera including her professional opera debut as Fyodor in Boris Godunov (2003) and as Giovanna in Rigoletto (2004).

“These young singers got their first real taste of life as a professional performer through this internship,” says Dame Malvina. “Many tell me it has been invaluable to them as they forge ahead with the next steps in developing their careers, and the experience gained is something they take with them and continues to influence them, wherever they are in the world. It’s important for our young talent to experience working in a professional opera environment and in New Zealand we are lucky enough to be able to offer this opportunity. It also allows them to form working relationships with other young artists, which will stand them in good stead for the future.

“For me, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the opera company, it is thrilling to see these young performers reaping the rewards as they go further afield and then come back here to perform on home-ground. Seeing Wendy Dawn Thompson’s development when she performed with the opera company in The Death of Klinghoffer in 2005, on the eve of her success as a finalist in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, is extremely satisfying. Knowing we’ve all had a hand in shaping individual careers at an early stage, as well as the future of opera in New Zealand, is really gratifying.”

Biographical Notes 2006-2007 Pricewaterhousecoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists

RACHELLE PIKE, 22, Mezzo-soprano

Rachelle Pike grew up in Blenheim, attending Marlborough Girls College. She embarked upon the first year of a Bachelor of Music degree majoring in Performance Voice, at Victoria University (studying under Emily Mair) before heading to Canterbury University where she is currently in the last year of completing this degree under Dame Malvina Major.

Rachelle’s interest in music and singing came through involvement and performing roles in college musical productions. As part of her University studies she has performed a number of solo recitals and ensemble concerts, many featuring operatic excerpts. She has recently performed as a soloist with the City of Dunedin Choir’s “Mostly Mozart” concert. In August this year, she will perform the role of the Old Woman in Canterbury University’s opera production of the new New Zealand opera, The God Boy by Anthony Ritchie.

In 2005 Rachelle was placed Third in the Sealord Aria Competition, Nelson, receiving the New Zealand Opera Society Prize. She is also the recipient of the University of Canterbury’s Madrigal Singer’s Prize, an annual award given to the senior student showing the most promise.


Sarah-Ann Walker is from Christchurch but spent a large part of her early life overseas – living in 35 different countries and including a number of years aboard a traveling missionary ship. Her family returned to New Zealand to complete her secondary schooling, firstly at Rangiora High School and latterly at Manurewa High School in Auckland.

In Auckland Sarah-Ann began singing lessons with Janice Webb while undertaking a part-time business degree at Unitec. However after two years, she returned to Christchurch and commenced a Bachelor of Music (Performance) at University of Canterbury studying under Dame Malvina Major, which she is in the final stages of completing.

Since 2001, Sarah-Ann has won several singing competitions including the North Shore Aria and the Sealord Aria Competition, Nelson. She has been placed Second in both The Dominion Post Aria, Wellington and the L.B. Millar Charitable Trust Aria, Christchurch, and has twice been placed Third in the Napier Systems Aria.

In 2004 Sarah-Ann won the New Zealand Opera Society’s Prize for the most promising operatic voice at the 2004 Napier Singing School, and is also the joint recipient of the Cynthia Magner Scholarship from the Dame Malvina Major Foundation.

In 2005 Sarah-Ann made her opera debut with Canterbury Opera in the role of the Alms Sister I in Suor Angelica. She also made her concert debut that year with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in concert starring Dame Malvina and conducted by Brian Law.

This year, Sarah-Ann has performed as a soloist with the Dunedin Sinfonia and Dunedin City Choir in the Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes and Missa Brevis; and with the Christchurch City Choir and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in the Mozart Requiem.

DAVID KELLY, 22, Repetiteur (Announced January 2006)

David Kelly began playing the piano at the age of 10 and two years later was accepted into the Specialist Music Programme at Burnside High School, Christchurch. He achieved placings in the Christchurch Young Performer of the Year Competitions and in the National Secondary Schools’ Chamber Music Competition, and received an Exhibition Award from the Trinity College Examinations Board.

David spent three years studying Performance Piano at Canterbury University under Deidre Irons. He works as an accompanist at the University of Canterbury in the studios of Vernon Midgley and Dame Malvina Major, as well as being involved as pianist for the Christchurch City Choir, Christchurch Symphony and NASDA. He is regularly involved with Dame Malvina Major Foundation events, and accompanies singers and instrumentalists nationally.

Recently awarded the Cynthia Magner Scholarship in association with the Dame Malvina Major Foundation, David continues studying in Christchurch under Dr Maurice Till.

Catherine Norton, 24, Repetiteur (Announced January 2006)

Catherine Norton is originally from Hastings and now lives in Wellington. She graduated from Victoria University of Wellington with a BMus (Hons) in 2003, with a special interest in piano accompaniment.

Already Catherine has worked with many young singers and instrumentalists in recital and competitions around New Zealand. She is a regular accompanist for the Victoria Academy for talented secondary school musicians and teaches a small studio of beginner pianists in Wellington.

Catherine has been repetiteur for Opera Victoria’s productions of The Magic Flute (2005) and Orpheus in the Underworld (2003); and performance pianist for Walton’s The Bear (2004). She has rehearsed and performed for a number of privately-mounted productions including; Sondheim’s revue Marry Me a Little; The Rake’s Progress (2003); the premiere of Aaron Lloydd’s The Black Mill (2002); and Porirua Little Theatre’s Les Miserables (2005). She has also performed as a soloist with Victoria University Orchestra.

Catherine has achieved several competition successes including Winner of the 2002 Victoria University Concerto competition and a semi-finalist in the Christchurch National Piano Concerto Competition. She is a recipient of the Jerry Wise Scholarship from the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand for tertiary study (1998); the Mills Trust Scholarship (1999); the Mary McHardy Scholarship (2001); and the Rere Beckway Pianoforte Performance Award (2003).

In 2005 Catherine was a member of the repetiteur staff at the Napier National Singing School and performed at the Nelson Composers’ Workshop.


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