Tenor singer Filipe Manu wins the Lexus Song Quest

After a four-year hiatus, the Lexus Song Quest returns to Wellington’s Michael Fowler Center with five aspiring opera singers battling for the title.

But only one could pull off the win and that was New Zealand-born Tongan Filipe Manu. He is already a three-time finalist in the competition, which has been running for 65 years now.

One of Manu’s mentors and one of New Zealand’s most famous singers, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, made an appearance at Saturday night’s gala, beaming with joy at Manu’s victory as she rushed on stage to give him a hug.

“You have to jump up and down and you have to say it’s a relief, a tremendous relief to have such success,” says Dame Kiri Te Kanawa who won the song quest herself in 1965 and says that Saturday night was “one of the most spectacular nights” she had seen for young singers.

“It was spotted pretty quickly as soon as they saw it in colleges, so it’s one of the most special,” she says.

But Filipe says he got into the opera by pure chance.

“I discovered opera singing in high school. They offered free singing lessons and a friend of mine was taking those singing lessons and I thought it was a good way to get out of class,” he says.

He quickly fell in love with the art, he says, and the winning prize of $20,000 in cash, a scholarship worth $27,000, plus $3,000 in low-cost international travel will help him make take your career to the next level.

“We have language coaching, the staging we have to work on, our vocal technique, the music, there are so many things that go into creating an opera singer and maintaining that high standard, that’s where that price goes,” says Manu.

In what is known to be one of the most competitive fields, he is already making a name for himself abroad as a tenor, currently residing in Switzerland where he is a member of the newly founded Stadttheater Bern soloist ensemble. .

“I didn’t think I could have a career, I’ve lived in London for four years now, I live in Bern Switzerland. I didn’t even know where Bern Switzerland was before, I kind of got the offer job there. So it was a whole different world, I didn’t even know it was possible,” he says.

Last year Manu graced London’s iconic Covent Garden Opera House in what was the first Tongan song ever performed there, and now next season he will star there in Mozart’s Magic Flute.

“Marking the 20th anniversary of this iconic production and I think I’m the very first Tongan to perform at Covent Garden in London so it’s going to be pretty special so I’ll have to bring the family out and make some noise.”

2022 Lexus Song Quest runner-up Felicity Tomkins won a cash prize of $10,000 and a scholarship worth $10,000. An additional scholarship of $15,000 was awarded by the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono, a prize for the singer who has shown exceptional potential.

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