Opera singers shine brightly at aria competition

10 Aria singers

Outstanding singers from the Catholic community have shone brightly in the first University of Auckland Aria Competition. 

Maeve Herd, Antonia Brightwell and Anna Reyes were all in the winners’ circle in the compeititon, which was part of Opera Scenes 2022, the annual production put on by the School of Music at the university, which was staged on October 29 this year. 

Ms Herd, who is cathedral cantor and choir director at St Patrick’s Cathedral, won the division 2 postgraduate aria competition with her performance of “O quante volte”, which is Giulietta’s first aria in I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Bellini. These Italian stories predate Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

Ms Brightwell, who works as cantor at St Michael’s parish, Remuera, and who is a former student of Baradene College, won the division one undergraduate aria competition with her performance of “O del mio dolce ardor” by Gluck.  

                          Anna Reyes

And Ms Reyes, a classical composition student who was in the same music class as Ms Herd at St Mary’s College in Ponsonby, won the orchestration prize for her arrangement of Offenbach’s Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman. 

Ms Herd told NZ Catholic that the semester 2 Opera Scenes is “an important part of the university year for all of the classical singers — both as a major assessment and as a way to foster community within the voice class”. 

But the Auckland Delta lockdown last year meant that Opera Scenes in 2021 was cancelled for Ms Herd, who was then undertaking postgraduate studies, and her fellow students. Those who could make it for the 2022 event were grateful for the opportunity. 

“It was more important to all of us that we were generously given this final moment of closure by the Classical Voice department, despite being students no longer,” Ms Herd said. 

“My colleagues in the final are all fantastic young singers who all have unique qualities to offer audiences and competitions like this are always like comparing chalk and cheese! Any one of us could have taken out the top prize.” 

As winners of the undergraduate and graduate aria competition, Ms Brightwell and Ms Herd both receive a cash prize generously donated by Sally Sloman of Opera Factory, a former student of Dame Sr Mary Leo, who judged the competition. 

Ms Herd, 23, told NZ Catholic that her own voice has developed “over my Masters postgraduate study at the University of Auckland under my teacher Dr Morag Atchison”, and she has started to “place” more at competitions. 

She achieved third place at the NSPAS (North Shore Performing Arts Society) Becroft Aria in June this year, but her success in the university competition is her first “win” of sorts. 

“While completing my Masters of Music in Semester 1 of 2022, I was working two voice teaching jobs on top of my commitment to the cathedral, which was very busy but I am proud to say has resulted in a Masters with First Class Honours! I treated the competition performance like a celebration of all that hard work.”  

Asked by NZ Catholic if she had sung at the university event as she had hoped, Ms Herd replied that “the funny thing about singing is that one will never be able to hear what one’s own voice truly sounds like, so I’ll have to rely on the reception of audience members for that factor! All I can personally rely on from this performance is that I didn’t need to obsess over my technique, and instead the character (Juliet) started to take over — which I’m told is a very good sign that the performance was good”. 

She said she is “feeling pretty stoked to say the least” after her success. 

“However, it is straight back to work for me at the Cathedral. Advent and Christmas is indeed coming, and with it many carols to rehearse!” she added. 

Ms Reyes is finishing her music composition conjoint degree while working as an acoustic engineer. 

The 2022 Opera Scenes production was set in an imaginary museum of opera. According to publicity for the event, “during the day, the tourists enjoy seeing carefully posed mannequins of famous operatic scenes, but at night when the tourists go home, the exhibits come to life, interact, and get up to all sorts of mischief. This night at the museum features favourite excerpts from operas by Mozart, Donizetti, Massenet, Bernstein, and more”. 

The artistic director was the School of Music’s Dr Gregory Camp, a choral singer, senior lecturer in musicology, music theory and musicianship. 


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Michael Otto

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