2022 Lexus Song Quest Semi-Finals
Over two exciting nights from Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 July, our ten Semi-Finalists competed for a place at the Lexus Song Quest Grand Final Gala in Wellington and a share of $95,000 in prizes.
The five finalists were revealed by Head Judge Teddy Tahu Rhodes to be Amelia Berry, Filipe Manu, Sarah Hubbard, Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono and Felicity Tomkins in front of an invited audience at St Peter's on Willis.
Tayla Alexander is a 21-year-old New Zealand soprano with global ambition. Performing both Opera and Classical Crossover commercially, her music is played across Europe, the United States and New Zealand radio. Some of Tayla’s accolades include the Ronald Dellow Senior Vocal Recital Competition, Norah Howell Senior Vocal Competition, attending the 2022 Whanganui New Zealand Opera School on scholarship, receiving the Evelyn M Harrison Scholarship and performing as a special solo guest with SOL3MIO at Spark Arena in Auckland. Tayla works as a soloist with the New Zealand Opera company, the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, Auckland Youth Orchestra and the Auckland Opera Studio. She is currently completing a Bachelor of Music with Honours at the University of Auckland and preparing to embark on her overseas studies.
A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and the New Zealand School of Music, Amelia Berry made her debut with New Zealand Opera in 2013, singing Zerlina in Don Giovanni. In 2021 she revisited the opera for Wellington Opera’s inaugural season, this time singing the role of Donna Anna. She has performed throughout Australasia, the United States and Asia, toured Australia and New Zealand as Johanna in Sweeney Todd, and appeared as Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera in South Korea to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday. Amelia is a previous winner of the New Zealand Aria, the Napier Aria, the Wellington Aria and the Dunedin Aria competitions.
After recently completing his Bachelor of Music in Classic Performance at Auckland University under the tutelage of Dr. Te Oti Rakena, Shiddharth is now pursuing a Masters of Music. In 2018 and 2019 Shiddharth was the runner-up in the U21 section of the New Zealand Aria competition in Rotorua and awarded third place in the Graham Allen Music Theatre competition at the University of Auckland. An alum of the New Zealand Opera School, Shiddharth is also in high demand as a soloist. Notable performances include Handel’s Messiah with Pakuranga Choral Society and Harbour Voices in 2021, and tenor soloist in Bach by Candlelight for the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts in 2022.
A 24-year-old tenor from Hawkes Bay, Emmanuel is currently a Dame Malvina Major Studio Artist with New Zealand Opera. He was first introduced to music through learning hymns at church and singing songs with family. Since the age of 16, Emmanuel has been an active member of Hawke’s Bay Youth Initiative ‘Project Prima Volta’ – a music programme that helps empower young people through the art of classical music. Emmanuel won first place equal with his older brother Alfred in the 2021 Dame Malvina Major Foundation Waikato Conservatorium of Music Aria competition.
In 2016, Sarah began singing with Opera Otago and has gone on to feature in several of their productions including the 60th Birthday Extravaganza and Mozart's Don Giovanni. Sarah was the recipient of the Colin McDonald Memorial Prize in 2019 and 2021 for musical excellence at Otago University and will feature in New Zealand Opera’s 2022 production of Macbeth. Since 2021, Sarah has been an alumnus of the New Zealand Opera Schools.
Tenor Filipe Manu is a New Zealand-raised Tongan, currently based in Bern, Switzerland, where he is a member of the newly founded soloists ensemble of Stadttheater Bern. Formative to Filipe’s training was his time at University of Waikato where he completed a Bachelor of Music and postgraduate diploma. He is a former student of the New Zealand Opera School and was an inaugural member of both the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Singers Programme and the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Opera Programme.
A proud Cook Islander, 26 year old Ridge Ponini completed his Honours degree in Music at the University of Otago, majoring in classical voice performance under the tuition of Judy Bellingham. In 2016 Ridge sang several roles in John Drummond’s new opera War Hero presented by Opera Otago. In 2017 Ridge was named the Most Promising Singer and received the Judges Choice Award in the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Aria award, and in the same competition placed second in 2018. In 2018, he was awarded the prize for the singer with the most potential in the McCormick Opera Award and fulfilled his long-held dream to return to Rarotonga as a guest artist for Opera in Rarotonga. Last year, Ridge was awarded the Enari Iosefa Opera Award from Creative New Zealand.
Soprano Felicity Tomkins is currently studying towards her Artist Diploma in Opera Vocal Performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, under the tutelage of tenor Stuart Skelton. Felicity was a New Zealand Opera Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist in 2020, and has graduated from the University of Waikato with her Master of Music (First Class), and her BMus (First Class Hons), and BSc (Biochemistry). Felicity is a past recipient of the NZ Opera School Dame Sister Mary Leo Scholarship and The Haddleton Emerging Artist Award, and is a current Kiwi Music Scholar and 2021 Circle100 Scholar.
New Zealand-American soprano Patricia Westley was praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as a “hugely impressive artist”. Earlier this year, Patricia was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition NYC district auditions and will make her debut at Teatro la Fenice as First Niece in a new production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. Patricia is a two-time participant in the prestigious Merola Opera Programme, a Benenson Young Artist with Palm Beach Opera, and an alumna of the University of Oklahoma and Carnegie Mellon University.
Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngaariki Kaiputahi, Flaxmere-born soprano Katherine Winitana never thought she would pursue a career in Opera. In 2018 whilst completing her Bachelor of Commercial Music at Massey University she got her first taste of singing in an operatic style through her involvement with the Hawkes Bay youth initiative, ‘Project Prima Volta’. Her new passion and determination led her to complete her Honours at Waikato University. She was also accepted into New Zealand Opera school in 2020-2022 and has been invited back for a second year in the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist Programme with New Zealand Opera.