Sweet airs and muddy hopes for baritone

Jonathan Lemalu gave New Plymouth a taste of world-class classical music.
Jonathan Lemalu gave New Plymouth a taste of world-class classical music.

Jonathan Lemalu will give New Plymouth a taste of world-class classical music and be finished in time to watch the footy.

The internationally renowned bass baritone opera singer is touring with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, but has stopped in New Plymouth for a performance with the Ars Nova Choir this weekend.

He will perform six Bible songs and hymns with young soprano Anna Mahon tomorrow at St Andrew's Church.

The Dunedin-born Samoan, who is now London-based, remains a staunch footy follower.

"It's very smart playing in the afternoon so we can go watch the rugby afterwards."

Lemalu met local classical musician Allan Purdy in Wales a few years ago and they have kept in touch. Last year Purdy arranged for Lemalu to perform in the Taranaki Festival of the Arts.

"It's expensive to get artists out here so when the orchestra bring me out it's good to do some stuff with some friends," Lemalu said.

Lemalu is a patron of the Musical Innovation Trust of Taranaki, and will give a master class to school students today.

He said anyone could achieve what he had with hard work and passion.

"You just need to have some luck, some support and some people like me coming in saying, ‘I can do it so why can't you?'."

Schoolyard social norms never fazed Lemalu, who remembers coming in muddy from rugby practice in Dunedin and switching to his angelic voice to sing in the choir. However he wishes he'd studied a language, which would help him with the German and French songs he now has to learn.

Despite performing in some of the world's biggest venues and to crowds of thousands, Lemalu enjoys intimate events.

"It's a nice community feeling, you know they will come out and support their own."

It's that community feel that Lemalu misses.

"I've lived in London 15 years, I don't know any of my neighbours.

"If I introduced myself they'd probably call the police."

The Ars Nova Choir event featuring Lemalu starts at 2pm.

Taranaki Daily News