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The quest for perfection

The renowned Lexus Song Quest is marking 60 years in 2016 and has already begun its pursuit of uncovering New Zealand’s finest young voices.

Dozens of talented singers began the journey in May this year with auditions and the start of a process that, for a chosen few, will culminate in one of New Zealand’s most glamorous nights of opera.  Just four contestants from the original pool of 50 will perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart at the Grand Final Gala on Saturday 23 July.

With $85,000 in prizes up for grabs and the opportunity to join the ranks of such prestigious previous winners as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Malvina Major, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Jonathan Lemalu, Anna Leese, Phillip Rhodes, Amitai Pati and Isabella Moore, the accolades are worth contending for.

Many of these names are notable on the international stage and now household names, their talents having graced the finest opera houses in the world.

In 2016 the illustrious judging panel for the Lexus Song Quest will be led by one of the most distinguished sopranos of our time, Yvonne Kenny.

With more than 60 international titles to her credit, Sydney-born Yvonne was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to music and is Professor of Voice at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Also new in 2016 is a refreshed and compressed selection period.  After entries close on 31 March, auditions will be held nation-wide in mid-May to determine 10 semi-finalists.

The semi-finals will take place over two days in Wellington on 16 and 17 July with four finalists selected to compete for the title a week later in the exciting Grand Final Gala at the Auckland Town Hall.

There, the winner of the 2016 Lexus Song Quest and $50,000 in cash, travel, and study will be announced live on stage, in front of a glittering audience of music lovers.  The runner-up will receive an immediate cash prize of $8,000, supported by the Dame Malvina Major Foundation, plus a study grant of $10,000 while a further $15,000 prize will be awarded to the most promising singer by the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation.

The Lexus Song Quest is timely in the Lexus calendar too as it marks the complete refresh of the Lexus SUV range.

Some of the new range of Lexus SUVs will be on display on the night.

Tickets to the Grand Final Gala on 23 July 2016 are on sale now at


Madison Nonoa

Among the 2016 entrants, is 2014 semi-finalist and Radio New Zealand listeners’ choice winner of the 2014 Lexus Song Quest, Madison Nonoa.

“The Lexus Song Quest is hailed as the top competition of its type in New Zealand and has launched many opera careers. It’s a huge honour to participate in it.”

Since the last Lexus Song Quest Madison has continued pursuing her operatic career. She is about to make her professional debut in the role of Papagena in The Magic Flute.

In the journey towards the 2016 Lexus Song Quest, Madison says she has a lot of nerves, but is feeling pretty good.  “I have been working really hard for the past two years and I have a ‘game plan’.  My ultimate goal would be to make the finals, but I realise with the level of competition and opera singers in New Zealand this is no easy task."

“To make the Grand Final would mean the world to me.  It has been a dream of mine for more than 15 years.  To get on the stage and be able to sing with the accompaniment of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra would be amazing.”


Sophie Sparrow

At 23, contestant Sophie Sparrow, says she’s also wanting to further her career and to get in front of people with her performances.  Being part of the Lexus Song Quest also provides her with the opportunity to get her audition practice up – a nervewracking experience.

Sophie’s at the point of finishing her second degree and moving to Auckland.  She realises that in opera circles it’s really important to get as much exposure and be heard by as many people as she can.

“I feel I am in the next stage of my development, getting seen in the public eye, especially with judges of such a high calibre.  The Lexus Song Quest also provides an amazing opportunity for young people to get exposure to big names.”

She says so far the journey to this point has been long and hard, but she’s been practising diligently.

“It is great exposure with all these auditions and you really need to finely tune your performance by practising and performing in front of people.”

Making it to the finals, she says, would be a dream come true.  “If it doesn’t happen this year, I’ll keep on trying. But if I do make it, it would be like all the hard work has paid off for me and for my teachers, my family and supporters who have enabled me to get this far.”


Tavis Gravatt

Tavis Gravatt is no stranger to the Lexus Song Quest.  He was a semifinalist in 2012 but became ill in one round of the recording sessions.

He says he’s returning because he loves performing.  “There’s a fantastic electricity you get on stage.”

He’s totally excited about the journey ahead but admits there’s still lots of work to be done.

Tavis, unlike many of the other competitors is not full-time studying music, operatic, or singing.  He manages to hold down a full-time job, play semiprofessional football and juggle the daily practice of hitting the high notes.  He finds that singing and performing act as a release and provide him with another avenue to go out and express a different part of him, but in the end, he says, it comes down to the finesse.

For Tavis to be named in the finals would be proof that he has the ability.

“I’d relish the opportunity to have the full backing of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – it makes the performance jump up another notch," and he would also relish the opportunity to sing with the other contestants.


Source: Believe Magazine - Issue 13 2016