Tongans are known for their big stature and big rugby hits but this particular Tongan is known for his big voice.
His name is Filipe Manu and he is one of the five finalists for the 2022 Lexus Song Quest, New Zealand’s most acclaimed opera competition, which will announce a winner this Saturday after solo renditions.
The 28-year-old tenor has the chance to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand opera icons including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Malvina Major and Sol3 Mio’s Amitai Pati, who have all previously won Lexus Song Quest and now grace stages around the world.
The prestigious competition, which began in 1956 and has opened many doors for incredible young artists across New Zealand, is returning after a four-year hiatus. The stakes have never been higher for the finalists, with up to $95,000 in prizes up for grabs on the night.
The winner and runner-up will be announced live on stage by the head judge, internationally acclaimed bass baritone and previous Lexus Song Quest winner, Teddy Tahu Rhodes.
“It was an extremely difficult task to narrow it down to five finalists. This is the number one competition for opera singers in Aotearoa and the gala is always a fantastic night for everyone,” said Mr Rhodes.
“Orchestras, opera companies and festivals around the country and the world are all potential employers of these talented finalists. With cash, scholarships and travel money up for grabs as well as the title itself, the Lexus Song Quest really is Aotearoa’s most coveted opera prize.”
Competition organiser Tāwhiri’s Creative Director, Marnie Karmelita, said this year’s Lexus Song Quest finalists display incredible skill and determination.
“We are in constant admiration of the finalists who perform at the highest of standards, prepared to put themselves on the line to be judged live on the night,” she said.
“This is going to be an exciting event to remember and we can’t wait to share the talent of these inspiring singers with our audiences who we encourage to get behind their personal favourite.”
Filipe hails from Kolomotu’a village in Tongatapu. He spent the last year living in Bern, Switzerland, performing as a soloist in the Bühnen Bern opera ensemble. He is competing in the Lexus Song Quest during a holiday break back in New Zealand.
He has a Bachelor of Music degree and a Postgraduate Diploma with Distinction from the University of Waikato, where he studied with Dame Malvina Major. He has been a Dame Malvina Major emerging artist with New Zealand Opera, and been selected for the inaugural Dame Malvina Major Opera programme and the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Singers’ Development programme. He also completed a Masters Degree on the Opera Programme at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Manu’s notable concert appearances include Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai with the Southbank Sinfonia, Messiah with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra and singing in a small ensemble in La Damnation de Faust with the London Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle.
Competition successes so far, include winning the IFAC Handa-Australian Singing Competition and the Audience Prize. He was runner-up in a previous New Zealand Lexus Song Quest and New Zealand Aria competitions, and second runner-up in the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award and Mozart Prize.