ARTicle Magazine

Meet the Lexus Song Quest semi-finalists: Madison Nonoa

29 June 2016

One of the 10 singers vying to join the opera competition's impressive list of winners.

Madison Nonoa

Lexus Song Quest Grand Final 2016, Saturday 23 July, Auckland Town Hall. Four finalists will be chosen from semi-finals held Saturday 16–Sunday 17 July in Wellington. The semi-finals and Grand Final will be broadcast on RNZ Concert.

Madison Nonoa




Madison has a Bachelor of Music with first-class honours from the University of Auckland. She is a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar at the University of Waikato, where she is studying French and German. A Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist with New Zealand Opera, she this year performs Papagena in The Magic Flute. She is a former member of the New Zealand Youth Choir, an alumna of the New Zealand Opera School and New Zealand Singing School and has been a finalist and winner of many aria competitions around the country. In the 2014 Lexus Song Quest, Madison was the youngest semi-finalist and RNZ Concert Listeners’ Choice Award winner. 

What's your first memory of singing in front of other people?

When I was about four years old. I was watching my aunty perform in her kapa haka group before they travelled overseas on a tour and I was so inspired by the singing and dancing I decided to give a performance myself. I stood up on the chair I was sitting in beside my grandfather and, while they were still performing on the stage, gave my best rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb, much to the surprise of all the audience members around me.

When did you turn to opera and what was the draw?

There are two parts to this question for me. I fell in love with opera when I was too young to remember the actual moment itself, although it has become a famous family story. When I was three years old, I was walking along Lambton Quay in Wellington with my family when we happened to come across a young opera singer busking on the street. I was so entranced by her singing and the music I refused absolutely to walk past her and wouldn't budge until she had completed her set of songs. Nobody in the family could move me. The second part is I was selected to be in my first opera when I was nine years old, as a member of the children's chorus in Carmen. I went along to the auditions because I sang around the house all the time and thought being "in a show" would be great fun. It was beyond anything I expected – I loved it so much I learned all the words (in French!) to everyone's parts and drove my family crazy with my one-woman Carmen show every day at home.

Who are the singers that inspire you?

I am inspired by the singers I meet all the time. I have been fortunate enough to be mentored by Dame Malvina Major – one of the most inspirational women I have ever met. I look up to singers who work hard, love what they do, who can take the craft of music seriously without taking themselves overly seriously. I am continually inspired by the example of other Polynesian classical singers, such as Isabella Moore and Amitai and Pene Pati, as well as many others, who are really paving a way for Polynesian singers to find a voice and place in this industry.

What's your dream role?

My dream role is definitely Marie from La Fille du Régiment – at the moment. I love Marie for her spunk, her youthful optimism and the fact she is able to be more than "just another sad soprano". She's a tomboy, she's a soldier, she's a lover and she's a go-getter. I think she'd be a lot of fun to become. Susanna from The Marriage of Figaro and Amina from La Sonnambula rank pretty highly for me also.

Where would you like your career to be in 10 years' time?

In 10 years, I would love to be undertaking operatic roles in America and/or the UK and Europe. I would also love to do lots of work here at home in New Zealand with our fabulous company. I will be singing and loving it.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

Aside from opera and singing, I am very passionate about Pacific Island youth empowerment and education. I believe it is so important we invest energy and time in building up the younger generations of Pacific Island students to become as motivated as possible to follow their dreams. I worked as a Pacific Island Student Ambassador at the University of Auckland and was inspired to work hard and follow my path in music with a brave heart because of the many young people I worked with. I aim to continue the legacy of my own family who moved from Samoa and Niue by encouraging others and being a positive influencer, and to spread the message I have inherited from my own forebears: with hard work and persistence, coupled with rightly timed nerves of steel, anything is possible.

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