Up­lift­ing souls

Ten years ago, New Zealand so­prano Anna Pier­ard ex­ited the Euro­pean opera cir­cuit to re­turn home to Hawke’s Bay. Now she’s help­ing young peo­ple find their voice and place in the world

NZ Life & Leisure - - Career Paths - WORDS ANN WARNOCK

1990-1995 New Zealand Sec­ondary Stu­dents Choir and New Zealand Sec­ondary Schools’ Sym­phony Or­ches­tra “Mu­sic was the back­drop to our lives,” says Anna whose par­ents Jane (a mu­sic teacher and pi­anist) and Louis Pier­ard (a news­pa­per edi­tor and clar­inet­tist) pro­duced five su­per-mu­si­cal chil­dren in­clud­ing two opera stars – Anna and her UK-based sis­ter Madeleine. Anna’s “noisy and won­der­ful child­hood” im­bued her with “a sense of se­cu­rity which was a priv­i­lege”. She learned the vi­ola from the age of six but her en­gage­ment with sing­ing didn’t take hold un­til her early teens when she was in­spired by her aunt, Lon­don-based so­prano Cather­ine Pier­ard, whose CDs were played at home. High school was not her great­est gig. “I didn’t con­nect with the cur­ricu­lum; I wanted to be cre­ative and was a mu­sic nerd.” With a good ear and quick mas­tery of mu­sic the­ory, she joined the New Zealand Sec­ondary Stu­dents Choir and the New Zealand Sec­ondary Schools’ Sym­phony Or­ches­tra (vi­ola).

1996-1999 Eastern In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Diploma of Per­form­ing Arts Anna’s iden­tity as a singer was ce­mented in a poignant mo­ment with her tu­tor while study­ing for her Diploma of Per­form­ing Arts at the Eastern In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Hawke’s Bay. “I was prac­tis­ing with Es­to­nian opera singer Anne Reis­sar when she said, ‘Anna, sing like that and you are a world-beater.’ It made me be­lieve in my­self.” A re­jec­tion from Vic­to­ria Univer­sity’s New Zealand School of Mu­sic “built my re­silience”. She stud­ied clas­sics in­stead, toured Europe with the New Zealand Youth Choir and stopped off in Lon­don where she gained en­try to three pres­ti­gious mu­sic schools.

2000-2004 Guild­hall School of Mu­sic & Drama Anna chose the Guild­hall School of Mu­sic & Drama – “it was a leap of faith which helped de­fine my life.” She gained a BMus and MMus (her the­sis was on the pres­ence of land­scape in New Zealand mu­sic) and met fel­low stu­dent and now hus­band José Apari­cio, a gifted Span­ish tenor, flautist and con­duc­tor. “When I ar­rived in Lon­don a gypsy at Ox­ford Cir­cus said to me, ‘ You’ll get some pa­pers – sign the green one.’ Af­ter­wards I re­al­ized the en­rol­ment form for Guild­hall was green.” 2004-2008 Liv­ing and per­form­ing in Europe Anna com­pleted the pres­ti­gious two-year mas­ter pro­gramme at De Nieuwe Opera Academie in Am­s­ter­dam re­garded as a ca­reer spring­board for highly tal­ented young opera singers. On grad­u­at­ing she was snapped up by La Mon­naie, the Bel­gium Opera in Brus­sels. Im­mersed in the rich cul­tural land­scape of Europe she pur­sued a rig­or­ous sched­ule of con­tracts across Lon­don, Barcelona, Vi­enna, Stras­bourg, Florence and Va­len­cia where she and José mar­ried. “It’s the life of an ath­lete. You train, per­form and sleep.”

2009 Homecoming The global re­ces­sion and the im­mi­nent ar­rival of their first child trig­gered a re­turn to Aotearoa. When her five-week- old daugh­ter Eva was still in a bassinet, Anna starred in the Auck­land Phil­har­mo­nia Or­ches­tra’s per­for­mance of Madame But­ter­fly. “Our baby was a gor­geous dis­trac­tion from any sense of loss we felt about leav­ing our ca­reers in Europe. We have no re­grets.”

2014 Opera brings op­ti­mism While Anna now jug­gles fam­ily life – Eva is eight and Javier is six – with sing­ing teach­ing and operatic roles with NZ Opera, the NZSO and others, an over­rid­ing pas­sion pro­pels her life.

In 2014, to­gether with Sarah Walm­s­ley, she es­tab­lished Project Prima Volta – a ground­break­ing opera ed­u­ca­tion model which seeks to al­le­vi­ate the men­tal-health pres­sures faced by teenagers. It’s be­ing lauded for its abil­ity to de­liver so­cial change and turn young peo­ple’s lives around. “We’re us­ing opera as a tool to build con­fi­dence, re­spect, am­bi­tion and a work ethic. Mu­sic is a tonic, an es­cape. The re­sults are huge.” Project Prima Volta of­fers 30 Hawke’s Bay teenagers a year-long pro­gramme of men­tor­ing and coach­ing, cul­mi­nat­ing in their in­clu­sion in the cho­rus of Fes­ti­val Opera – ‘Opera with a Con­science’ – a Hawke’s Bay opera com­pany founded in tan­dem with Project Prima Volta. At the an­nual Art Deco Fes­ti­val in Napier it stages a daz­zling opera fea­tur­ing in­ter­na­tional stars along­side Prima Volta stu­dents. “We call on our opera friends in Europe and say, ‘Come for a work­ing hol­i­day to New Zealand’. The im­pact of the col­lab­o­ra­tion is enor­mous.” While Project Prima Volta uses mu­sic to trans­form lives, Anna says the project has en­riched her own. She is head of pro­grammes and de­vel­op­ment for Prima Volta Char­i­ta­ble Trust and a direc­tor of Fes­ti­val Opera.

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