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Dame Kiri Gives Kiwi Baritone Life-changing Gift At 80th Birthday Party In London

As Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s 80th birthday celebrations went global with celebrations at London’s Opera Holland Park this week, it was the opera star who gave a life-changing gift to a young Kiwi baritone.

Julien Van Mellaerts was presented with the $60,000 Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Laureate by the foundation’s founder and chair, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. At a gala concert to celebrate Dame Kiri’s 80th birthday at London’s Opera Holland Park, Van Mellaerts was presented with a unique artwork of New Zealand greenstone in front of a capacity audience.


“It is an enormous honour to have been supported and mentored by Dame Kiri and the foundation since 2016, and this is an absolute privilege to be named the 2024 Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Laureate. Thank you,” says Julien. “Kiri, you showed us all what was possible and you have helped so many with your talent and your generosity to so many singers at home and around the world. It is an incredible opportunity to have been supported by your foundation all these years, and to be named the Laureate is a true honour. I am so incredibly thankful. “The foundation has done so much for me and so many young NZ singers, and I am so proud to be associated with you all. This recognition is immense and I cannot be more honoured or thankful for everything you have, and continue to do, to help advance my own career and that of countless others.” In 2022 the trustees of The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation established The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Laureate to honour a New Zealand singer whom the Foundation has nurtured, has achieved sustained excellence and who will continue their career into the future.

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In a letter to Van Mellaerts about his award, Dame Kiri wrote: “You are a very worthy recipient, and we are so very proud of what you have achieved to date on and off the concert stage. Aside from your many competition successes, we were so impressed with your tireless work creating the Whanau concert which benefited so many of your colleagues and your initiative and professional approach to the planning of the song recital series at Opera Holland Park which provided valuable performance opportunities for so many young singers.” Julien Van Mellaerts has been praised for his “charisma and vocal elegance” by Das Opern magazine and is highly sought after as both a recitalist and on the operatic stage.

He won first prize in both the prestigious Wigmore Hall International Song Competition and the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, and represented New Zealand at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World in 2019. A graduate of the Royal College of Music International Opera School, and recipient of the coveted Tagore Gold Medal, Van Mellaerts has had great success in recent role and house debuts at the Verbier Festival, Salzburg Mozartwoche, Opéra National de Lorraine, Opera Holland Park and New Zealand Opera. Julien, with Dylan Perez, is the co-curator and co-producer of Opera in Song at Opera Holland Park.

The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation was created by Dame Kiri in 2003 and is committed to assisting outstanding young New Zealand singers who have complete dedication to their art, with judicious mentoring, financial support and career assistance.

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