The thrill of performing

Soprano Katie Trigg is looking forward to her first performance in Dunedin since singing in the...
Soprano Katie Trigg is looking forward to her first performance in Dunedin since singing in the Big Sing secondary schools choral festival years ago. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
For Amanda Atlas and Katie Trigg, the opportunity to sing with Dunedin-trained international stars  Simon O’Neill and Jonathan Lemalu is  one not to be missed. Rebecca Fox talks to the sopranos about their musical journeys.

Amanda Atlas has judged a competition Katie Trigg was in and watched her perform, so she is looking forward to singing alongside the young mezzo-soprano.

"She has such a beautiful, rich, warm voice, so far ahead of where I was at her age," Atlas says.

Trigg is a young up-and-coming soprano, while Atlas performed on the world’s top opera stages before settling in New Zealand to have a family.

The sopranos are performing alongside Jonathan Lemalu (bass) and Simon O’Neill (tenor) with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and City Choir Dunedin in "Ode to Joy", Beethoven’s magnificent Symphony No 9, to be conducted by Kenneth Young, at the Dunedin Town Hall this weekend.

For Trigg, singing with these international stars presents a wonderful opportunity.

"They are world-class musicians. It’s phenomenal."

For both it will be the first time they have sung professionally with the DSO at the town hall.

Atlas says it is quite surprising, given she spent her high school years in Invercargill, where her father was a vicar, during which time she discovered her love of singing and performing.

"I sang in church choirs, did music and productions and things at school and knew that was the direction I wanted to go in."

She does remember singing in Dunedin, including at St Paul’s Cathedral many times, during those eight years.

Amanda Atlas as Elle in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) with 
Amanda Atlas as Elle in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) with Nashville Opera. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Church music and choirs are a good training grounds, she says.

When she was young Atlas initially gravitated towards musical theatre.

"I didn’t grow up listening to opera. I was more into belting out "Les Mis" (Les Miserables) and "Phantom" (Phantom of the Opera) in my bedroom.

"I could always tell I had a louder voice than everyone, so I thought I’d go and be an opera singer when I didn’t really know much about it."

Atlas trained in Wellington before moving to the United States, where, with the help of training, she was able to fine-tune that loudness, learning techniques to spin the sound out in a large hall, unamplified.

"It was a combination of natural loudness combined with the technique and training."

She met her husband, also a singer and vocal trainer in New York, who has helped her put the final polish on her voice.

When they were living in Italy, where her husband was in the chorus at La Scala, she tested out a piece she was working on in their tiny Milan apartment.

"I was expecting him to tell me how amazing I am, but instead he did not. He said ‘that was pretty crappy — very tense’.

"Once I got over the shock I realised he probably had something quite valuable to add.

"I still work with him to this day. I must book in a session with him before I come down for Beethoven 9."

They lived in Italy for three years before moving to England and travelling around Europe for engagements.

When she got pregnant with their daughter they decided to move back to New Zealand, even though it meant sacrificing her full-time opera career.

"I wanted her to grow up with my parents and family here, to have a New Zealand upbringing and I would sing when I could. I’m happy with the balance.

"And the last couple of years I’ve been very grateful we did."

After her daughter was born in 2009 Atlas took a few years off, before setting herself up as a freelance singer in New Zealand and Australia, as well as teaching .

"If I’m not travelling to sing, I’m teaching singing."

This concert is a chance to reunite with O’Neill. She can remember singing the Beethoven masterpiece with him as a student, and has sung with him over the years — the last time a Wagner concert in India in 2019.

She also sang with Lemalu when they were students.

"I’m really looking forward to working with them."

She has also sung the work with the Canterbury Symphony Orchestra and enjoys the part of soloist, allowing as it does the opportunity to provide contrast in colour, volume and dynamic to the chorus.

"It’s a fantastic piece, a massive thrill.

"It’s a huge, romantic, heroic, inspirational symphony and I pop out some good high notes in a wonderful big blast to finish off the evening."

Trigg, who has been attending the New Zealand Opera School since 2019 while finishing her honours in music and classical voice at the University of Waikato, is also looking forward to the performance, although for her it is her first time singing it.

"Beethoven treats the voice as an instrument — without paying too much mind to phrasing — for a living, breathing singer," Trigg says.

"I am loving the challenge. It’s a really cool piece."

She has been doing some coaching sessions at New Zealand Opera in Auckland to put the finishing touches on her voice for "Ode to Joy".

The last time Trigg performed in Dunedin was as a member of the New Zealand Secondary School Choir at the Big Sing secondary school competition.

"It was a great stepping stone and a way to develop musical skills."

She always wanted to sing, and went to great lengths as a 7-year-old to convince her mother to let her busk after seeing someone doing it in a movie, Trigg says.

It was something different for the family, who are computer scientists and engineers.

Her success on her first go busking outside the supermarket while her mother shopped was encouraging and she to continued to busk until university, which helped pay for her singing lessons.

It was her singing teacher who recognised her voice might be suited to opera and gave her an aria to learn.

"I really liked it.

"I liked feeling that my voice was powerful in that kind of music. It was quite different. Wow, I get to sing loud."

But it was not until university, where she was a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar, that she fully realised the potential of opera.

"It got very full on opera very quickly and I just loved it. I got very passionate about it and decided to give it my all and see what happens."

That meant giving up her conjoint degree in computer science.

"I’m so stoked I did as I’m loving all the opportunities I’m getting."

She has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of the 2017 Honours Performance Series and in 2018 won the Dame Malvina Major Foundation University of Waikato Aria Competition.

Covid meant she had to make the tough decision to put her place on the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on its extended artist masters programme on hold last year.

Later this year she hopes to re-audition for her place and also audition for places in the United States and Germany.

"I was crushed, but one of the silver linings is I get to perform with these amazing international stars."


Ode to Joy, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin Town Hall, June 12

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