Opera singer back home for family and concert

International opera singer Jonathan Lemalu returns home to Dunedin to sing a series of songs by...
International opera singer Jonathan Lemalu returns home to Dunedin to sing a series of songs by Mahler with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra at Dunedin Town Hall this Saturday night, July 6. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
International opera star Jonathan Lemalu has made the long journey home from the United Kingdom to sing with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra this Saturday night at Dunedin Town Hall.

As part of the "Journeys" concert, Lemalu will sing four songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn) song-cycle, chosen in collaboration with conductor James Judd.

He will be one of three soloists in a wide-ranging musical showcase, performing alongside Alistair Fraser (taonga puoro), who will feature in Matariki-themed piece Rerenga by Michael Norris; and NZSO concertmaster Vesa-Matti Lepannen (violin), who will play Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 ‘Turkish’.

The concert will conclude with Sibelius’ epic Symphony No. 7.

Lemalu told The Star that he and Judd had looked at a lot of songs for the concert before choosing Mahler’s for their "cinematic storytelling and rich HD orchestrations using the full flavours of the orchestral palate".

Their subjects included an imprisoned drummer boy being led to the gallows, a young man in love with a maiden on a mountain, a lover’s quarrel, and a preacher giving a sermon to fish.

"Lots of wonderful Mahler-ian word painting and cinematic drama for the DSO to sink their teeth into," Lemalu said.

"Der Tamboursg’sell is one of my favourites — depicting emptiness and despair, inevitable brass and percussion moments, and sumptuous string vistas of unparalleled hope and resignation."

This visit is the first for Lemalu since he brought his family home to Dunedin for six months during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2021, performing Beethoven with the DSO.

"Having lost over a year’s work and income, there was a huge sense of gratitude and reflection on how lucky we are to make music in front of a packed DSO audience — something that has stayed with me."

A solo trip for Lemalu — his wife Sandra and children Joshua and Arabella are busy with work and school back in England — he is looking forward to spending time with his parents, Foalima and Tasi Lemalu.

"It is my Dad’s 90th this year, and Mum has had aches and pains, so it is important to be here, celebrate them and enjoy precious time just being their son," he said.

Lemalu will also have the chance to perform elsewhere, including recitals in Arrowtown and Christchurch, chamber music in Wellington, and masterclasses.

Helping to teach a new generation of singers is close to Lemalu’s heart — he is Professor of Vocal Studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London alongside maintaining a busy international singing career.

As in New Zealand, these are challenging times for the arts in the UK, where major funding cuts affected operas and orchestras.