|Jonathan Fa'afetai Lemalu
The Pacific jewel of opera!
Destined for a profession given to dramatic entrances, Jonathan displayed this tendency from the outset. Suffering a hole in the heart when born in 1976 at Queen Mary Hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand, Jonathan nearly didn't make it at all.
Aptly christened Fa'afetai (Samoan for "thank you") Jonathan (means "gift of God") by his loving parents Lemalu Nanai Foalima and Ali'itasi, Jonathan took to music at a young age becoming a boy soprano under the expert direction of Dr Raymond White in Dunedin at the tender age of nine.
Of course, growing up in New Zealand meant that music occasionally had to play second fiddle to other pursuits like rugby, soccer and scouts; while faith and family also proved to be prominent in his upbringing (as they still are today).
Jonathan was educated at Mornington Playcentre, Mornington Primary School, Kenmure Intermediate School, and Otago Boys' High School before studying both Law and Music at the University of Otago where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1999. For him this achievement was even more satisfying than winning the Mobil Song Quest in 1998 because he really had to work at juggling studies with music.
On one occasion Jonathan recalls having to sit a terms paper at the airport having just returned from a choral tour in Sydney: "A fellow singer sat with me, eating all my food and making sure I didn't cheat!"
Determined as he was to finish his academic degree before going on to pursue his musical career, such challenges were not unusual.
It was clear that Jonathan was destined to be a bass-baritone rather than a barrister following a five year musical tutelage under Honor McKellar, QSM. During Jonathan's time with Honor, his achievements included winning the Otago Daily Times Aria Contest (1996), and Mobil Song Quest (1998), and making his professional opera debut as Colline (La Bohème, 1998), and winning the Sydney McDonalds Aria (1999).
Jonathan completed his post-graduate studies at London's Royal College of Music in 2002, where he was taught by famed teacher Madame Vera Rozsa. He was thrilled to receive the College's prestigous gold medal, presented to him by the College President, HRH Prince Charles.
Ahhh… so you'd like to be a professional classical vocalist, but you're not sure about the hours. Well, let me tell you a bit about them….
Each performance is backed by hours upon hours of intense voice, body and mind preparation that makes up most of the life of a professional classical vocalist.
When I was a student at the Royal College of Music (RCM), my normal day would begin with studies from 10.00am to 1.00pm, and then again following lunch from 2.00pm to 5.00pm. Study involved a range of different lessons, including:
Opera and Repertoire coachings
Did I mention lunch? Probably shouldn't have, because lunch hours were the perfect time to book a room and grab some colleagues for rehearsing.
In the evening, there were often "after school" rehearsals at the College or at the RCM Hall of Residence where I lived for three years. Sound-proofed rooms (especially important for those coloratura sopranos!) were available for 2 hour sessions initially, and after 10pm, on a "first come first served" basis. Needless to say it was quite common for rehearsing to continue into the small hours of the morning if necessary (and it was normally fairly necessary!).
No respite in the weekend either. Many performances were scheduled on Saturday, required travel and therefore early starts or late finishes. If no concerts were scheduled then the weekend was often the only time to get some extra singing lessons with Madame Vera Rozsa, or piano rehearsals for recitals and repertoire.
I hope I haven't put you off. Because all that preparation makes the actual performances really worthwhile. And it also makes any time you do get to yourself more special. When a weekend's free, I like to really wind down, get away from it all and just relax. And that includes sleeping - a close friend and an old time remedy for those niggling aches and pains that overtake you at the end of a long day. And believe it or not, when I'm not singing it, I quite like listening to music - popular styles that is - always keep those options open!
"God has a plan for us, and I continue to realise his plan for me."
- Jonathan Lemalu, 1999
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