Martin Lijauco speaks with the mezzo soprano Kruger Scholarship winner.

How did you first get into opera? My love of music started as a young child when my mum encouraged me to take up piano, violin, flute and dance lessons. I was particularly encouraged as a young singer in the Australian Youth Choir under the direction of George Ellis, where I accelerated through the levels and was offered a full scholarship when I was 11. A turning point was when I got to sing a solo in the Sydney Town Hall – a moment that confirmed my desire to pursue singing. At the Conservatorium High School, singing teachers such as Dr Rowena Cowley and Amelia Farrugia shaped my path. With Sydney Children’s Choir and Gondwana Voices conducted by Lyn Williams, we toured internationally to China, Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong, the Baltics, and Iceland. This journey was nothing short of extraordinary, igniting within me a deep passion for culture and a love of exploration. At the beginning of Year 11, I enrolled in the Open Academy’s Opera Lab, run by Narelle Yeo. I immediately fell in love with opera and decided to pursue more solo singing opportunities performing as a soloist in the NSW Arts Unit Festival of Music in the Sydney Opera House and as a Featured Artist in the NSW Schools Spectacular in Qudos Bank Arena.

You have won a variety of awards, including the 2MBS Fine Music Stefan Kruger Scholarship. What opportunities do you feel awards and scholarships provide young and emerging musicians? Not only can they provide invaluable financial support to young musicians at the beginning of a career, but they can also be a great platform to connect with industry professionals. Last year I competed in the IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition 2023, under the careful guidance of my teacher Maree Ryan AM. I was honoured to receive three study prizes in the Finals: the Nicole Car Prize, Canadian Vocal Arts Institute Scholarship, and Zeke Solomon Award, the Goethe-Institut Prize in the Semi-finals, and the chance to perform alongside the Opera Australia Orchestra. The 2MBS Fine Music Stefan Kruger Scholarship enabled me to undertake a successful audition trip at the beginning of the year, auditioning for young artist programs, taking part in intensive German language courses at the Goethe-Institut, and taking private coaching sessions. Now, with two exciting young artist programs secured, I’m eagerly anticipating the next two years in Essen.

Your opera roles have taken you through repertoire by Händel, Hänsel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, and to Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. What repertoire do you most enjoy singing? I love singing pants roles, especially the naughty boys! There’s an irresistible charm in portraying cheeky and adventurous characters who always seem to stir up trouble. A dream pants role of mine is Octavian from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, although I would also love to embody the allure and magnetism of femme fatale roles such as Carmen. If I had to choose, I’d say that German romantic music holds a special place in my heart. There’s something captivating and tear-jerking about the works of Mahler and Strauss that deeply resonates with me. My experience and understanding of the German language also add another layer of appreciation to this repertoire. For this reason, I especially loved singing the role of Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel. Portraying Hänsel’s playful and mischievous nature against Humperdinck’s enchanting orchestration was absolute magic.

You have travelled around Europe and Australia auditioning, taking masterclasses and performing. Is there anything you’ve learnt in your journey that you wish you knew earlier? Do you have any advice for those interested in pursuing a life in opera? I’ve always been a firm believer in seizing the moment and chasing your dreams. You only live once! After the world stood still for a couple years amidst Covid lockdowns, I’ve felt an even stronger drive to push boundaries. My advice to other young singers would be to create your own opportunities! Round up some friends, stage a recital, organise an opera, enter an Eisteddfod. I’ve found collaborating with friends to be the most rewarding, memorable, and exciting performances.

What’s next for you? After the last few months of auditioning for young artist programs in Europe, I’m thrilled to share that I will be at the Salzburg Festival this summer as a part of the Young Singers Project. Here I will have the opportunity to perform in masterclasses, concerts, and perform the role of Die würdige Dame in Der Spieler by Sergei Prokofiev. I’ll also be joining Opernstudio NRW for the 2024/25 and 2025/26 seasons, where I will perform small to medium-sized roles at the Aalto Theater Essen, Oper Dortmund, Oper Wuppertal, and Musiktheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen. Coming up soon, I’m excited to perform a final recital in Sydney alongside some of my dear friends from the Sydney Conservatorium, before moving to Essen in June to commence rehearsals for the upcoming season. The program will feature classic divo mezzo arias with Jamie-Lee Xu (piano), and some favourite opera ensembles with Ariana Ricci (soprano), Molly Ryan (soprano), and Wesley Yu (tenor) in the iconic Pitt Street Uniting Church.

May 11, Saturday 6pm Pitt Street Uniting Church Sydney

Tickets can be purchased at the link below! I would love to see you there.