On song around the world
When Kiwi singer Anna Leese was first advised to try singing opera, it "wasn't really cool for people of my age", she said.
"I thought it was a bit showy. I fought it a little bit and I wanted to just do less operatic, classical singing."
Now the world renowned singer is based in Italy, travels between continents to perform, and considers Dame Kiri Te Kanawa a friend.
She will perform at Waikanae Music Society's first concert of the year next week.
Leese grew up singing in Woodville, north Wairarapa, and sang in several choirs with her siblings while at school.
She studied music at the University of Otago, before music scholarships enabled two years of study at the Royal College of Music in London.
"The most exciting thing about it [studying in London] was just meeting all the legends of the opera world, and they would be brought in to coach us. I remember thinking it was quite strange having a conversation with Kiri Te Kanawa the first time."
Leese performed throughout her study, and by her third year she was able to support herself with singing work and performances.
She received her big break at 24 when filling in for Italian soprano Nuccia Focile, who fell ill before the opening of La Boheme at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.
"They put a dress on me and I sang it and then they let me do the dress rehearsal."
Leese also performed on opening night, receiving great reviews for her performance.
Since then she has performed in operas in Germany, Canada, Belgium and New Zealand where she performed in last year's The Bartered Bride.
She has toured China, Malaysia, Korea, and performed in Spain and the Netherlands.
In August she will appear in the New Zealand Opera performance of Don Giovanni in Christchurch.
Until then, she is preparing for a role in Verdi's Othello in Munich, where she will travel in three weeks to meet with the director.
She will also be performing in The Pearl Fishers in London between May and July, and will perform in La Boheme in London in February 2014.
And somehow in the middle of it all she is planning a wedding, to Italian winemaker Stefano Guidi who proposed to her in May last year.
The wedding will be held in New Zealand in January 2014.
"I got engaged last May and I had to immediately go away for five full months without seeing my fiance. Sometimes you're just away from home for a ridiculous amount of time.
"It can be really stressful and just awful being on the road all the time, but when it's going well, there's nothing better than being a singer that I can think of."
On Sunday next week, Leese will perform arias by Mozart and a scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, with favourites from La Boheme, Dvorak and Canteloube.
February 10, 2.30pm, Waikanae Memorial Hall. Tickets, $30 from Waikanae New World, Lush Design Gallery and Moby Dickens' Books.
- Kapiti Observer