Te Waha Nui meets the rising stars of Auckland’s arts and culture scene. In the last of a four-part series, SARAH ARGYLE talks to multi-award winning opera trio O Sol3 Mio.
Those who love opera – and even those who do not – are swooning at the breathtaking song, quick wit and humbling success story of three Samoan singing sensations.
At the beginning of this year the tuneful trio, made up of tenor Pene Pati, 24, his tenor brother Amitai Pati, 22, and baritone Moses Mackay, 22, came together to form O Sol3 Mio.
The three big voices are named after one of the songs that brought them fame: O Sole Mio. In Italian sole means sunshine; in Samoan it means brother.
During the annual New Zealand Opera Week the young men were performing in a Wanganui café as part of the New Zealand Opera School festivities.
“An old lady stood up and said, ‘You guys should form something’, so we did,” Pene Pati says.
Since then the boys have been wowing packed crowds with their charm, talent and contemporary take on classical music.
NBR New Zealand Opera director and New Zealand Opera School founder Donald Trott recalls the first time he watched the trio perform.
“To my great surprise they came out with a show they put together on the back of an envelope and brought the house down.
“They are fantastic. If they continue the way they’re going they’ll go a very long way in the world of performance and if they wish it, opera,” says Trott.
The Pati brothers, who have been singing together for 20 years, came with their parents and two sisters from Samoa to begin a better life in New Zealand.
“Every Friday our Dad made us perform at a rest home. We hated it. Now we look back, we wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t done that,” says Pene Pati.
Pene, compared by New Zealand Opera legend Dame Malvina Major to a “young Pavarotti”, admits he used singing as an excuse to avoid maths class during high school.
“My teacher told me, ‘You’ll never get anywhere with your music, you need maths’. That became motivation for me to do well. I’d love to see him now,” he says.
Mackay says he was brought up in a rugby-obsessed family, but when he was 16 an accident left him momentarily paralysed on the field and he was forced to find another passion.
“I freaked out and never wanted to play again,” he says.
Earlier this year Amitai Pati won New Zealand’s most prestigious opera competition – the Lexus Song Quest.
Since 1956 the Song Quest has been a springboard for New Zealand opera stars including Dame Malvina, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Jonathon Lemalu.
Older brother Pene Pati recently won the Australian equivalent of the Lexus, the Sydney Aria Competition.
Pene Pati has also just been announced as the Joan Sutherland Society’s Bel Canto award recipient for 2012.
Dame Malvina says she thinks the three boys are marvellous, talented young people who will go a long way.
“Two boys from one family is extremely amazing. The whole family are so musical. The mum, dad and sisters also sing, and Moses I’ve known for ages,” she says.
The singing superstars, who set themselves apart by singing from the heart, have been handpicked to attend the Wales International Academy of Voice.
Mackay and Amitai Pati will follow Pene Pati to Wales where he has already begun studying towards a Masters in Advanced Vocal Studies.
Dame Malvina says she plans to go to Wales to see the boys working and keep an eye on them.
Twenty promising singers from around the world are given the opportunity to attend the internationally acclaimed school.
“It’s about $40,000 a head to attend so we’ve been fundraising so we can have the chance to spread our sound,” says Pene.
The Welsh academy’s website says it recognises “the best teacher is the stage itself”. Performances are used to assess students’ progress.
“Students receive one-to-one tuition in vocal technique, art song, concert repertoire, languages and operatic repertoire.”
The academy hosts a number of visiting tutors, including Dame Kiri.
Amitai says if you find something you love, it doesn’t end up being work.
“It’s the best thing to go to work every day and do something you love,” he says.
Although no strangers to success, the stars, who now live in South Auckland, remain humble.
O Sol3 Mio’s slogan is “From nothing to something”.
“We all come from struggling families, but anything is possible,” says Pene Pati.