Family and success can go together

Malvina Major

Dame Malvina Major (pictured) has a message for aspiring artists.

“If there’s one message that I’d like to give to younger performers, it is that you can have a life, and have a successful life in opera at the same time” she says.

“Students, and particularly women, struggle now as they try to balance their careers and having families. It happened to me when I first went to London and had my son.”

Major says she was studying at the London Opera School when her son was born. Her then funder stopped paying her, on the assumption that having become a mother her studies were over.

In fact, she says becoming a mother “was of no consequence to my studies”.

She went on to extend her family with two more children and launched an international solo opera career.

Major career

Major, who is New Zealand’s foremost opera soprano has just gifted her personal archives to Waikato University.

The collection documents her entire career.

It covers everything – from her early training in Ngāruawāhia, to performing solo for royalty on stages in London’s Covent Garden and at the Pyramids in Egypt.

Part of the archive is about to go on display as an exhibition entitled “I Did it My Way” at Waikato Uuniversity’s Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.

Her close association with Waikato University over many years, including the recent establishment of Te Pae Kōkako – The Aotearoa New Zealand Opera Studio –  made it the obvious place to gift the archive, she says.

The Dame Malvina Major Foundation

Since 1991 when the Foundation was established, Major has helped hundreds of young New Zealand musicians achieve their goals.

She says King (then Prince) Charles inspired her to establish the Foundation.

“Prince Charles asked me where the conservatorium of music was in New Zealand, where New Zealand’s amazing artists were trained. I told him there wasn’t one.

“It was then my ambition to get one started.”

With backing from Sir William Gallagher and his wife Lady Judi, and guidance from the university’s chair of opera Madeleine Pierard, Major got the conservatorium – The Aotearoa New Zealand Opera Studio (aka Te Pae Kōkako) “off the ground“.

The conservatorium accepted its first six students at the start of this year.

Major’s foundation provides the financing for two of the students’ scholarships, while the others are privately funded.

“That will be important news for the King” she says.

“My ambition is to see it grow to include orchestral instruments, theatre people … and dancers.

“What a legacy that would be.”


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