Promising singer's sudden death 'unreal'

MOURNED: Rising operatic star Felicity Smith, who died in London.
MOURNED: Rising operatic star Felicity Smith, who died in London.

The last time Felicity Smith's parents saw their daughter they were waving goodbye from a bus heading off to the airport.

That was in August. The 33-year-old Lower Hutt-raised mezzo-soprano was recently married and had just performed in France's Bauge opera festival, an important step in what should have been a sparkling operatic career.

This year she was to tour Berlin with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and to perform at the Musica en Segura festival in Spain.

She was planning to bring her new Spanish husband, clarinettist Dani Broncano, to New Zealand for the first time.

Instead, he is visiting New Zealand to meet her grieving family alone.

Smith died suddenly on September 10 in London from a pulmonary embolism.

Today would have been her first wedding anniversary.

Instead, her memorial service was held at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul on Thursday.

New Zealand School of Music deputy director Greer Garden spoke at the service and, for the first time since Smith left Wellington, heard the "electrifying" development in her voice that had "opened up the world of opera to her".

"She was on the road to something much bigger."

Her parents, Carol and Alan Smith, say they will remember their daughter as generous, straightforward, honest, and modest.

She wanted to succeed in opera "on her own merit", Mr Smith says. She was also "quite at home with a power drill".

"She had a determination to be a singer. A mezzo-soprano is a voice you either have or you don't. By determination and talent she applied to London's Royal College of Music, got accepted, probably lived on the bones of her bum, and succeeded."

Smith attended Eastern Hutt School then Chilton Saint James School in Lower Hutt.

She received a masters of music in musicology from the New Zealand School of Music in 2008, having already obtained a bachelor of music, a bachelor of arts with first-class honours, and a graduate diploma in music focused on singing.

Her teacher, professor Tim Evans-Jones said she graduated just last year with distinction with a masters from the Royal College of Music in London.

"I can honestly say that I have never had a student who applied themselves in all aspects [of] their singing with such hunger to succeed," he wrote in an email to her parents.

On the early morning of September 10, word had already come through to Mr and Mrs Smith in Lower Hutt that their daughter had been rushed to University Hospital Lewisham in southeast London.

That afternoon, the worst possible news reached them and their other daughter, Nicola.

"It was unreal, as if it couldn't be happening to us - to her," Mrs Smith said. "Because she was so happy, alive and bright."

About five years ago she suffered a blood clot in her leg and was treated at Wellington Hospital. Just before travelling to Europe to study in 2010, she had been taken off her medication.

London's Co-Opera Co, which she had worked with, is planning to hold a concert in her honour in central London next year.

The proceeds will go towards setting up the Felicity Smith Prize, to be awarded to a promising singer each year.

PULMONARY EMBOLISM

A pulmonary embolism starts as a blood clot in the deep veins of the legs, when it is called deep vein thrombosis.

If that clot passes up the veins to the heart it can become stuck in one of the vessels supplying the lungs, cutting off oxygen.

This is a pulmonary embolism and can be fatal.

Thirty New Zealanders died from pulmonary embolisms in 2010. 

Fairfax Media