Lexus Song Quest will reveal next big opera star

Christian Thurston, Benson Wilson, Bianca Andrew, Edward Laurenson, Oliver Sewell and Isabella Moore.

The Lexus Song Quest
Grand Final, Auckland Town Hall, July 19.

This country's top aria competition for aspiring classical singers has six finalists: Bianca Andrew (mezzo soprano, 24), Edward Laurenson (baritone, 25), Isabella Moore (soprano, 23), Oliver Sewell (tenor, 24), Christian Thurston (baritone, 22) and Benson Wilson (baritone, 23).

Preliminary judges Rodney Macann and Roxane Hislop selected the six finalists after first narrowing down the entries to 12 semi-finalists.

“Because the second stage involves listening to recordings we had ample opportunity to assess who should go through," Mr Macann says.

"It was still hard because we had to make choices which meant very promising singers would miss out.”

He says voice potential is a big factor in the judges' choice.

“We have six very strong finalists, any of whom could take away major prizes. It will be a wonderful Grand Final with a mix of great voices and high performing charisma.”

This year's competition is shaping up as a battle of two cities with Aucklanders Benson, Edward and Isabella up against Bianca, Oliver and Christian, who all live in Wellington. Oliver is originally from Christchurch while Christian’s hometown is Rotorua.

The Lexus Song Quest has launched the careers of some of New Zealand’s most celebrated opera stars, including Dames Kiri Te Kanawa and Malvina Major, Jonathan Lemalu, Madeleine Pierard and Phillip Rhodes.

Now studying in a prestigious UK opera school, 2012 winner Amitai Pati is one third of the hugely successful trio Sol3 Mio, whose debut record went platinum and bested Lorde by becoming New Zealand’s biggest selling album of 2013.

All semi-finalists recorded a programme of four arias or songs, which have aired on Radio New Zealand Concert. Listeners can vote for the Radio New Zealand Concert Lexus Song Quest Listeners’ Choice Award, which was won by 2014 finalist Isabella Moore in 2012.

At the Grand Final, the singers will perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Emmanuel Joel Hornak, and pianist Terence Dennis. The British soprano, voice teacher and coach Kathryn Harries will judge the final concert.

The winner receives a career-defining study scholarship of $15,000, cash prize of $10,000 plus a return economy international air ticket.

The winner and the second and third placegetters will perform a recital concert, accompanied by Terence Dennis, in Wellington on Tuesday, July 29.

The Lexus Song Quest programme also includes a Masterclass Series that is free to the public. These will be held in Auckland on Monday, July 28, Wellington on Wednesday July 30, Dunedin on Thursday, July 31 and Christchurch on Friday, August 1.

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