Amitai Pati's journey to glory
The young Amitai Pati used to hate country music – now the 23-year-old tenor from South Auckland loves the stuff, perhaps as much as relaxing with mates and playing video games.
Pati had country music foisted upon him as a young boy when his father Pene took him, his brother Darren Pene (Pene Jr) and older sisters Torres and Evangeline to perform "old school" staples like John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads to appreciative audiences at the Culverdon Care retirement village in Mangare.
"I hated country music. It was my dad who roped us into it, but people loved seeing young kids getting up there and singing."
Although he wanted to be out doing normal kids' stuff, it's clear that this early stage thrill had a lasting impression on the University of Auckland voice performance major, who now has a clear ambition: "A huge stage and audience full to the brim and knowing everyone is there to see you sing."
New York's Met, London's Covent Garden, Vienna's Staatsoper and Milan's La Scala are all on his to-conquer list but Pati is relaxed and is not going to jeopardise his vocal cords in pursuit of the world's great stages.
Typically, opera singers peak in their 30s and 40s so the young tenor is happy to wait while his voice matures and stardom beckons.
Buoyed by the Lexus win – his performance included Verdi's Lunge da lei – and the resulting spike in public profile, Pati says he is "feeling good, I just have to take my time, I don't need to rush. I'm only 23".
Winning the Lexus (formerly the Mobil Song Quest) puts him in the company of Kiwi opera royalty, including past winners Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Malvina Major and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. "It's unbelievable. I've been looking up to those people for as long as I've been doing this. Coming from such humble beginnings to this makes me incredibly happy."
Although acutely aware that when the real work comes he needs to "be serious" his approach to stardom is chilled, to say the least. "I just want to keep things pretty simple – I'm not too extravagant."
He's quite content to "kick back with the bros" in front of PlayStation "killing each other and laughing".
However competition was certainly serious at last week's grand final at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre, but possibly not as fierce for Pati as in the semifinal, when he was pitted against his girlfriend, Wellington soprano Isabella Moore. They have been together for about four years after meeting in rehearsals for Mangare's Graduate Choir in 2006.
Moore won this year's Wellington Aria and he is a big fan of his girlfriend's talent and presence.
He took his early inspiration from his idol, older brother and fellow tenor Darren Pene Pati, winner of the celebrated Sydney Eisteddfod in 2011. "I always looked up to him and just wanted to get up with him and sing with him. It's a huge pleasure to be doing the same thing."
Pati's Lexus prize package includes a $15,000 scholarship to the Wales International Academy of Voice, directed by internationally renowned tenor Dennis O'Neill, a judge at this year's awards.
"I firmly believe that Amitai has the potential to become a superstar," O'Neill said. "Time will tell."
Pati will again follow in his brother's footsteps – when he joins his sibling next month at the Cardiff academy. "He knows exactly what I'm going through – we're both from the same family and we both understand how our voices work. He's probably the greatest support I have."
The brothers will also reunite at the Academy with South Auckland alumni, baritone Moses MacKay – together the trio are known as Sol3 Mio. "It's just a bit of fun especially in the industry we're in, which is so serious," Pati says.
Sol3 Mio make their final New Zealand performance at Tauranga's Holy Trinity on September 22 before they wing their way to Wales.
The Dominion Post