‘Opera for organ’: Wade Kernot in benefit for St Peter’s, Willis Street

Wade Kernot (bass) with Megan Corby, Andrew Glover and Rosel Labone; Kirsten Simpson (piano): Organ Restoration Fund benefit concert

St Peter’s Church, Willis Street, Monday 12 October 2009

The connection between St Peter’s church in Wellington and bass Wade Kernot from Auckland who was runner-up in this year’s Lexus Song Quest was rather obscure. It transpired that the link was June Read, a member of St Peter’s congregation and Wade’s aunt, with whom Wade had stayed during his time in Wellington and who had provided him with great support.

The empty space on the north side of the church’s sanctuary was the other link: the organ alcove which will soon be occupied again by a restored organ. The 1888 instrument had been subject to an arson attack in 2008, and the proceeds from this concert will help pay for its restoration.

Wade’s even greater triumph was to be the New Zealand nominee to compete in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He reached the semi-final stage, meaning he sang in both the opera and the song phases of the contest before impresarios, agents, critics, managers, vocal coaches from everywhere. (See note below)

Wade recruited three of his friends to share the singing, with pianist Kirsten Simpson.  

The other three singers did him honour, for each of them exhibited a polish and artistry that was generally well beyond the student level.

Wade took the majority of the work. He began with ‘Sorge infausta’ from Handel’s Orlando, severe, authoritarian; however, in this Kernot’s voice was not particularly well treated by the acoustic, diffusing its power and focus. All his, and others’ singing seemed not to invoke such disfavour from the Anglican gods. For example Beethoven’s amusing, slightly risqué Der Kuss he captured very successfully. His other two arias in the first half were ‘Se vuol ballare’ (Kernot will sing the title role in New Zealand Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro next year) and Macduff’s ‘Come dal ciel precipita’ from Macbeth. He handled those sharply contrasted arias with impressive understanding.

In the second half he gave a fine, robust performance of Vaughan Williams’s The Vagabond; then ‘Hine e hine’, in Carl Doy’s rather insipid arrangement, and ‘Ole Man River’ – a splendid rendition.

Megan Corby’s two contributions were Schumann’s (not Schubert’s, as the programme had it) Widmung, and the aria ‘I want magic’ from Previn’s A Streetcar named Desire, in which her top opened out in authentic Broadway fashion.

Andrew Glover prepared me for his show-stopping appearance the next evening as Monsieur Triquot in Eugene Onegin (incidentally, one of the best performances of it that I’ve heard anywhere). He sang one of Rossini’s ‘Sins of Old Age’, filled with dashing wit and precise ornamentation. And there was vivid character in his voice in his performance of ‘Lonely House’ from one of Kurt Weill’s Broadway musicals, Street Scene.  

Mezzo Rosel Labone, who has been accepted by Melbourne’s new School of Opera, sang one opera aria and one New Zealand song. Instead of the advertised aria from Les Huguenots (I assume, Urbain’s aria ‘Nobles seigneurs’), she sang Cherubino’s first act aria ‘Non so piu’ from The Marriage of Figaro. Her second offering was Anthony Ritchie’s setting of the Baxter poem entitled Song (‘My love came through the city…’).

But the real coup de théâtre was to follow. Wade sang as an encore, one of Inia Te Wiata’s favourites, Rangi Te Hikiroa’s version of the haka, ‘Ka Mate, Ka Mate’ (which you’ll find on the CD Just call me happy – the compilation of Te Wiata’s recorded songs, from Atoll/National Library).  

Then, scarcely waiting for the applause to end, he began ‘Bess, you is my woman now’; and a woman’s voice resounded from the rear, singing Bess’s part. She came forward slowly – Aivale Cole (to whom he was runner-up in the Lexus Song Quest). The two continued the duet with an extraordinary rapport both vocally and in spirit: their voices sounded made for each other.

The delighted audience could hardly stop clapping. 


Wade Kernot and Cardiff Singer of the World

Early this year it was announced that New Zealand had nominated a contestant for the 2009 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition: he was Wade Kernot from Auckland who was runner-up in the Lexus (former Mobil) Song Quest in April. A few years before, Kernot had won the Wellington Regional Aria Competition.

In June he capped his competition achievements by winning a place among the 25 semi-finalists in the Cardiff contest. Over 600 singers entered for the contest this year from 68 countries. It’s probably the most famous singing contest in the world. 

The earlier stages of the competition are conducted by auditions in 44 locations round the world and 25 are then chosen to sing in Cardiff.

Wade’s career has been distinguished, gaining early stage experience with Auckland’s Opera Factory. He sang in the 2003 production of Boris Godunov for New Zealand Opera and in 2004 he became a Dame Malvina Major Foundation Emerging Artist with the company. In 2005 he won a place at the Australian Opera Studio in Perth.

In 2007 he went to Wiesbaden in Germany to sing in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and returned to Christchurch for Zuniga in Carmen. In 2008 he was again with New Zealand Opera as DMM/PriceWaterhouseCoopers Young Artist.

In Wellington in 2008 he sang in The Seven Deadly Sins and The Lindberg Flight at the 2008 International Arts Festival, Colline in La Bohème; and for Southern Opera in Christchurch, Ferrando in Il Trovatore and the Speaker in The Magic Flute.


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