School of Music graduate wins top opera award

25 July 2016
2016 Lexus Song Quest winner Benson Wilson

Alumnus Benson Wilson won the prestigious 2016 Lexus Song Quest at the Auckland Town Hall on Saturday night.

The biennial contest celebrates New Zealand's top opera singers, and previous winners include Dame Kiri te Kanawa, Dame Malvina Major, Isabella Moore, and Sol3 Mio’s Amitai Pati.

Benson, who completed his Bachelor of Music (Honours) degree at the School of Music in 2014, was a student of acclaimed teacher Dr Te Oti Rakena.

The twenty-five year old rising opera star, who previously placed second in the 2014 Lexus Song Quest, won $20,000 in cash, a $27,000 Study Scholarship, and $3,000 worth of travel.

No stranger to success, Benson has previously won the University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor’s Cultural Grant, the 2015 Napier Aria Competition, as well as three awards at the 2015 IFAC Australian Singing Competition.

The baritone, who is from a musical family, began singing in church as a child. He was one of four finalists who performed at the awards gala night on Saturday, accompanied by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edo de Waart.

The contest was judged by international opera star Yvonne Kenny, who said she “was impressed by all the finalists … but Benson’s development had been very marked and he was on a fantastic pathway.”

The runner-up was tenor Filipe Manu, with third place being awarded to soprano Madison Nonoa, also a graduate of the School of Music

Benson will use the prize to undertake postgraduate study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

The New Zealand-born Samoan said upon winning, he was “blessed to receive the honour and was ready to step up to the challenge.”