University graduates score a scholarship hat-trick at NZ Opera

21 February 2018
Natasha Wilson and Manase Latu in Opera Scenes, 2016
Natasha Wilson and Manase Latu performing in Opera Scenes, 2016. Photo: Calvin Peter Photography

Prepare to hear a lot more about New Zealand opera in the near future as our homegrown talent continues to flourish at an exciting pace.

Soon to contribute to raising the nation’s reputation as a powerhouse for some of the world’s finest operatic performers are five talented young singers who have been carefully selected as recipients of Dame Malvina Major Foundation scholarships for the 2018 season. Among the successful applicants are recent University of Auckland School of Music graduates tenor Manase Latu, soprano Natasha Wilson and baritone Samson Setu, all of whom have been named Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists for the coming year.

The significance of their appointments should not be under-estimated! This intense and rather exclusive performance-based programme is instrumental in propelling young singers into the international arena of opera singing. Presenting a unique learning opportunity encompassing comprehensive coaching from international singers, language tutoring, career guidance, performance in mainstage productions and hours of observing and practicing repertoire, the Emerging Artists programme promises to deliver the finely-nurtured New Zealand opera professionals of the future.

Standards of contemporary participants are so high that Dame Malvina’s confidence in their future careers is categorical. She explains that due to the geographical isolation of New Zealand, the Emerging Artists programme pushes the boundaries in order to provide the interns with an international head start, so that upon their arrival in the UK, for example, their colleagues are astonished at what they have already accomplished. She says, “I am absolutely amazed at the quality of singers that we [New Zealand] have, and I'm constantly being reminded of this by people overseas who say, ‘where on earth did all these New Zealanders come from?!’

“If a New Zealander applies to go to the Royal College of Music, they [the college] already know that they [the student] have had a huge amount of performance and acting experience before they get there.” Despite such weighty expectations therefore, we can already be assured of the talent of Samson, Manase and Natasha simply from their having being selected for the scholarship in the first place.


Majoring in Classical Vocal Performance at the University, Manase Latu is in regular demand as a soloist throughout New Zealand, becoming a member of the Freemasons Opera Chorus in 2017, and performing in mainstage seasons of Carmen and Katya Kabanova. In 2015 he was presented with a Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Pacific arts, while at the annnual NZ Aria competition he was awarded the Most Promising Competitor Under 21 trophy for three consecutive years, named overall winner of the Under 21 class competition in 2016, and performed as a finalist in the Operatic Aria category of the same year. Manase says that he feels, "very honoured to have been chosen for this year's season."

Samson Setu performing in Opera Scenes, 2016
Samson Setu performing in Opera Scenes, 2016. Photo: Calvin Peter Photography


Samson Setu majored in classical singing under the tutelage of the University’s Dr Te Oti Rakena after throwing in his rugby towel to concentrate on an operatic career. He has since been recipient of both the first prize and the Audience Choice Award at the 2016 Ronald Dellow Memorial Vocal Recital Competition, and in the same year was a finalist at the esteemed New Zealand Aria Awards, and winner at the annual South Auckland Performing Arts Competition.


Natasha Wilson graduated from the University with a BMus(Hons) majoring in classical vocal performance and made her debut with New Zealand Opera in the touring production of Mikado in 2017. Maintaining a hectic schedule thereafter has seen Natasha involved in international performances with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra as soprano soloist in their Spanish Baroque concert series, and a member of the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation’s mentoring programme.

Both Natasha and Manase are also previous winners of the Graham Allen Musical Theatre Prize, held each year at the University.

Recently returning to New Zealand following 24 years working for an assortment of overseas arts organisations including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, University of Auckland alumnus and New Zealand Opera’s new Executive Director Richard Knowles says, “We are delighted that Natasha, Samson and Manase have been selected as our 2018 Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists. They will receive professional development including coaching, career guidance and performance opportunities during New Zealand Opera’s 2018 season as they prepare to take the next step in their careers. Many former Emerging Artists have gone on to train at some of the world’s pre-eminent schools and to sing at major opera houses. The programme is very important for young singers as well as for the company as we support the development of young talent.”

With alumni of the University comprising all three of this year’s carefully selected Emerging Artists, we will be following their future international careers with great interest, anticipating proud moments for the University, New Zealand Opera and the country as a whole, as we look forward to celebrating as a small nation bearing big voices!