Two of our favourites: Flaxmere singers make Lexus Song Quest semi-finals

Hawke’s Bay locals Katherine Winitana and Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono have joined an elite collective of young New Zealand opera singers this week after being named semifinalists in the 2022 Lexus Song Quest.

The Lexus Song Quest (formerly the Mobil Song Quest) is a premiere biennial event in Aotearoa’s professional arts calendar.

The contest, now in its 65th year, is managed by Tāwhiri and focuses on artistic development for the country’s most talented young classical singers.

Ten semifinalists will take the stage in July to compete for a place in the Lexus Song Quest grand final gala in Wellington, performing in a two-night event alongside the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

The 2022 winner will receive $20,000, plus a study scholarship of $27,000, contribution towards overseas travel, and the honour of joining the Lexus legacy which includes the likes of Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Jonathan Lemalu, Madeleine Pierard and Amitai Pati.

Winitana and Fonoti-Fuimaono are accustomed to making local headlines due to their growing performance accolades and ongoing involvement in Project Prima Volta (PPV), a Hawke’s Bay youth initiative that uses singing to promote wellbeing and build valuable skills for life.

Both are current Dame Malvina Major Studio Artists and have been awarded multiple honours at Whanganui’s New Zealand Opera School. Winitana is the recipient of the Bryan Wyness Spirit of the Opera School Award, and Fonoti-Fuimaono is the recipient of the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Award as well as the Guy Haddleton Emerging Artist Award.

The pair are graduates of the Project Prima Volta programme and often return to their old stomping ground to appear as young artists in PPV’s performance platform Festival Opera.

Their journey illustrates the programme’s impact, demonstrating the critical role the arts can play in scaffolding the development of young people and inspiring excellence.

Commenting on the role PPV played in their early development, the rising opera stars said they recognised the “incredible opportunities” they were given.

“Deep down we are still kids from Flaxmere who, without PPV might have taken different paths in our lives. We are so excited to represent our communities on the Lexus stage, and honour those that helped get us here.”

Winitana is also one of the first appointed mentors in Prima Volta Charitable Trust’s newest model for supporting successful pathways through singing, a mentor programme that puts PPV graduates at the forefront of delivering social change through opera.

She will be taking her expertise to the classroom setting this year, helping tamariki to see the relevance in developing their voice, both on and off the stage.

Hawkes Bay Today
Photo / Warren Buckland


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