Dame Kiri mentoring up-and-coming tenor

BRITTANY MANN
Last updated 12:03 05/06/2014
Jonathan Abernethy
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ
WHIRLWIND VISIT: Opera singer Jonathan Abernethy returned from Sydney to train with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

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Singing to thousands without a microphone can be daunting.

Sometimes an opera singer is grateful for a little guidance. Especially when it is from Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Former Wellington College student Jonathan Abernethy has been based in Sydney with Opera Australia's young artist programme since 2012.

Now aged 26, he returned to New Zealand last month to train with the opera legend, whose foundation supports him in his budding career.

Three years ago, Abernethy won a prize to watch an Opera Australia rehearsal at the Sydney Opera House.

He was surprised when the company asked him to sing for them.

He was even more so when he was offered a job.

"I thought they were taking the mickey, but they were serious. I started a year later," he said.

Until that point, singing had been a hobby for Abernethy, who was studying business and IT at Victoria University.

"It was a quantum shift over to opera," he said.

"But it was one of those things where an opportunity like this does not come beckoning twice."

Since then, the tenor has been cast as the heroic prince Tamino in Mozart's The Magic Flute, Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni, and the huntsman Normanno in Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.

His most recent performance as Tamino was on Greenmount Beach on the Gold Coast, where he sang without acoustics and with a microphone for the first time.

The role is a highlight of his fledgling career - he grew up with The Magic Flute story.

He said there was a moment in the opera where his character was fed up and determined to get the job done.

"There's a huge orchestra under you and you come out and feel like a rock star. Every night, every time it happened it was like, 'I have arrived'."

He cited having Dame Kiri for a mentor as another highlight.

"I had to take a screenshot of my phone the first time a text from Dame Kiri popped up," he said.

"It's not a normal career. She knows more than anyone about what it takes to make it and be at the top of that game."

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- The Wellingtonian

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