Taking on the world stage

02 Jun 2022

Sitting in his Swiss apartment, Tongan-New Zealand tenor and University of Waikato alumnus Filipe Manu compares his new home town of Bern, and Hamilton.

Award-winning Tenor and Waikato alumnus Filipe Manu. Photo credit: Royal Opera House

“I feel like I’ve landed at the Swiss version of Hamilton. The Aare River is such a staple of the city just like the Waikato River, the green space is ample and everyone is very relaxed.”

The award-winning tenor is currently based in Switzerland where he is a member of the newly-founded ensemble of Bühnen Bern for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 season.

Filipe is only 29 years old but already has an extraordinary CV full of achievements.

He discovered his love for singing as a student at Dilworth Boys’ College in Auckland when he signed up for lessons as a way of getting out of maths class. Under the guidance of Dilworth’s Performing Arts Manager, Claire Caldwell, Filipe was introduced to classical music.

He says enrolling in a Bachelor of Music at the University of Waikato was his first step in committing to a career in classical music.

It was at Waikato as a Sir Edmund Hillary scholar that he completed a Bachelor of Music and Postgraduate Diploma with Distinction.

“The music department at Waikato was hands-on and offered a lot of contact time with lecturers. They really cared about my learning and encouraged me to be the best version of myself,” says Filipe.

While studying, Filipe commuted to Auckland regularly to study under the tutelage of Dame Malvina Major and to perform as a member of the New Zealand Opera Chorus.

“What has held me in good stead throughout my career was that Waikato offered a lot of opportunities to perform. We visited retirement villages weekly, had lunchtime recitals, opera scenes and concerts.  There was a lot of performing that really set Waikato apart and helped me to learn my craft.”

Performance time for students studying Opera at the University of Waikato will only increase with the upcoming launch of the Aotearoa New Zealand Opera Studio later in 2022.

Since graduating from the University of Waikato, Filipe has led a high-adrenalin lifestyle of performing. He moved to London, completed his masters through the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Opera Programme and won high profile competitions such as the Australian Singing Competition.

When the pandemic hit London and lockdowns were enforced it was an opportunity for Filipe to pause and take a deserved break.

At the time Filipe was part of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artist Programme. With no live audiences allowed, the Royal Opera House started live-streaming performances through their social media channels.

“One week I was cooped up in my London apartment taking lessons over Zoom. The next week I was on the stage of the Royal Opera House working with arguably the world’s top conductor performing as part of the Live from Covent Garden Concert Series - one of the first concert series to be performed during the pandemic.

“We were able to take opera into the homes of people who wouldn’t normally travel to London to watch a live show. The best part was that my family was able to tune in and watch me perform from the other side of the world.”

As part of the concert series, Filipe performed Efiafi peau ongoi vale, the first Tongan song to be performed at the Royal Opera House.

“It was something very special to me as I was missing home a lot. Being on stage in an empty opera house with just the conductor and a camera crew performing this song while playing my ukulele helped me to feel like I was home.”

Filipe has a strong career ahead of him and is enjoying performing to live audiences again. Later this year he will return to Covent Garden, London, for his first leading role of Tamino in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’, and will make his debut at Hamburg State Opera and the Opéra national de Paris.

Mentors have had a huge influence on Filipes career. “While studying at Waikato, Dame Malvina Major was a beacon of support. I was lucky enough to learn from her in the studio and she opened doors and helped me get to London.”

Once Filipe arrived in London he was supported by the Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation.

“I was lucky enough to have the support of New Zealand’s two biggest opera exports. They made a massive difference in shaping my career and have been so generous with their time.”