MP to perform as opera singer

BRIDGET JONES
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2012
DANIEL GALVIN/Fairfax NZ

We talk to Dr Lockwood Smith and Gina Sanders about their upcoming opera performance.

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Most people will recognise Dr Lockwood Smith as an MP and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  

Not many will know him as a trained opera singer.

But that is exactly what he is, and later this month he will perform alongside the New Zealand Pops Orchestra and some of New Zealand opera's biggest names.

The orchestra follows in the tradition of successful international counterparts like the Boston Pops Orchestra and Andre Rieu's Johann Strauss Orchestra, combining modern pop, jazz and folk songs with the classical world.

Launched in March, the 55-member orchestra will play just their second show on October 21 at the Auckland Town Hall.

Smith will be on stage, performing alongside the orchestra's soloists Will Martin and Gina Sanders and a youth choir of 150 Auckland students.

The politician was trained at the University of Adelaide by Donald Munroe, the man widely credited as the father of opera in New Zealand.  

The bass baritone fell in love with opera at the age of 10, when Munroe performed in Smith's hometown of Ruawai, but he grew up in a home full of music.

"As a little kid I was blown away by [Munroe], this rich voice and handsome man.

"At home on Christmas Day my grandmother would sing grace, but it was Donald Munroe who developed my love of opera.  But then I wrecked my voice and that was the end of it."

Smith didn't sing for almost 20 years - he said he never really had a true opera voice - but was drawn back again in the 1990s, and since then has performed a couple of times a year.

But going out of his "comfort zone" to perform Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer with the orchestra, will be the biggest test he's faced in a while. 

"For me, this is a huge challenge. I thought 'can I really do this?' And I'm not even sure I can, but if I don't give it a go, I will regret it. 

"There is a huge difference from being Speaker of the House. People say this must be so easy after the challenge of being Speaker. But every day [I do that] - I don't sing every day."

Gina Sanders, who is not only a performer, but also sits on the orchestra's board, said having a local orchestra performing songs from the likes of Crowded House, U2 and Cole Porter adds a new dimension to classical music.

"There is [some of the] cliché kind of music, but I think the reason it's popular is that people like to hear it, so if people like to hear it then why should we shy away from it," said the soprano, who has performed all over the world.

"It's the beauty of the marrying of the contemporary and classical sound."

Smith agreed the contemporary programme was an unthreatening way into classical music for any music lover.

"I think it can touch base with them more. Listening to the song I'm singing [The Boxer], it starts out just with drums and a guitar, and ends with an orchestra in full cry. And it's wonderful. Anyone who is touched by music at all can't help but be caught up in it."

The NZ Pops Orchestra presents O Sole MioOctober 21 - Auckland Town Hall 
Tickets on sale from Buy Tickets

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