Soprano star Aivale Cole relaunches her opera career

If you want to be a part of lyric soprano Aivale Cole ‘s way back to stardom, her next performance is a Christmas Concert at St Mary’s Church, Putney, on 16 December 2023; look out for tickets on We Got Tickets (GAFA Pacific Christmas).  I say be a part of, because she welcomes every member of the audience with a warm smile, and wraps you up in her life through fluffy back stories between pieces. What a total privilege to hear Habanera from Carmen, one of my most favourite arias, sung to me live, dripping with mischief, bravura and foreboding.

Soprano Aivale Cole and Madeleine Neave at The Antique Breadboard Museum

Soprano Aivale Cole and Madeleine Neave at The Antique Breadboard Museum

Our meeting

I encountered Aivale Cole thus. I had just rung at my first wedding, a church bell, on a rope. It’s a milestone, after a year of practising, and it was intense. My hands were blistered, my upper body drained and I was slumped in a seat, my eyes shut, listening to the organ practising, as the wedding crowd headed briskly along the river in the rain to the reception. Here and there, when I opened my eyes a chink, unfamiliar organisers flitted about, busy shifting, pointing, discussing. And there was Aivale, in the thick of it, who, despite the pressure, found time to blast me with her sunshine and strike up a conversation. Poof! I was invited to her concert. Just like that. A total gem.

 

The Concert

Entitled ‘Date Night with Aivale Cole’, it was an unusual offering of romantic opera and jazz. I have to admit, I was asking myself; which is going to be awful, the opera or the jazz; pleeeease don’t let it be the opera… or Wagnerian jazz…? It turned out she had oodles of technique, emotional depth and acting skills for both.

Part 1 was ‘pop-op’ or popular opera, and Part 2 featured old-school jazz songs by the greats, all meaningful to her. Of ‘Come Rain or Shine’ she told us: ‘I sang this to woo my husband-to-be, who was sitting in the audience, and by verse two he was in a total sweat!’  The sultry deep-throat jazzy croon suits her. Of ‘Summertime’ by George Gershwin, she said, ‘I’ve never sung this in the original key for my children at home because it would wake the whole neighborhood!!’ This is a lullaby we’re talking about. Clearly George never sang HIS kids to sleep… Andrew MacMillan accompanied beautifully on piano, ‘It’s difficult to find a pianist who can play both Opera and Jazz’.

 

Singing and Motherhood

Not surprisingly, St Mary’s felt too small for her, and her personally curated selection of arias, a walk in the park. But she is building it up, and after 15 years of dedicated motherhood and nannying, is relaunching her singing career, and this time, as an independent solo artist. Of her career, she says: ‘I’ve not gone the usual ‘Juilliard, Guildhall or Emerging Artist’ route, but more the ‘scenic route’, I’ve gone against the grain doing things in a different way, making opportunities for myself and others in the industry and making new lifelong friendships on the way’.

‘Life is going to get busy for me and I will persevere but its never lonely.  I have a very supportive husband and children to come home to. I knew I couldn’t have the big operatic career and a normal family life, and I absolutely love motherhood, being there to support my children. But I do miss it and feel it is time to do what I’ve been called to do. Now my children are 20 and 16 years old.  They said to me, ‘Go back to singing Mum’. I encourage all mums to reconnect with their old selves – to believe in themselves and their talent’.

She is launching with her personally curated, intimate church concerts, beginning at her concert home venue, St Mary’s Church in Putney, and will take her show to communities across the world.  ‘I hope I can widen the net and encourage people to experience opera for the first time and these intimate concerts will be a taster of what you will get when you book your first Opera to see from beginning to end’ at ENO or ROH and the same goes for Opera lovers with Jazz Music to go book an evening at Ronnie Scotts, 606 Club or at Pizza Express Jazz Club.’  Music and theatre are a wonderful and necessary thing to have in one’s life.

 

Keeping in trim

Not that she’s been vocally inactive; far from. She records all her coaching and singing lessons and revisits them every now and then when it’s needed, (vocal coaches and singing teachers have different functions) and currently has been very fortunate to have a coach at the ENO, Martin Fitzpatrick, Head of Music.

Aivale Cole is also the new Creative Director of GAFA Arts Collective UK. GAFA (pronounced ‘ng-afa’) which means ‘Geneology’, is a group showcasing Samoan culture. Her cousin Sani Muliaumaseali’i (Founder and Creative Director) produced a Samoan reworking of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 2021, reviewed by The Guardian, which I would LOVE to see.

She’s also teaching, singing free-lance (see calendar below) and is the Hon. Secretary of the New Zealand Society UK. Aivale has even met some of the Royal Family on three different occasions to sing for the big Commonwealth Events representing either New Zealand or Samoa at Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and St James Palace. Result; her loyal following was out in force as the church filled with New Zealanders, colleagues, friends, family and fans – I don’t think Aivale distinguishes between them. They are all worthy of her love which she expresses through her wonderfully rich, nimble voice. ‘Singing ignites a special energy in me and my audience’.

Madamas Hibiscus: Anita Marianna Mina and Rose

Madamas Hibiscus: Anita Marianna Mina and Rose

 

Beginnings

Aivale Cole has always sung, at school, in church. Everywhere. Anything. So why opera? She chose opera after a school visit to the Wellington Opera Company’s ‘Pearl Fisher’ which was the defining moment to become an opera singer.  It totally fired her up. Her mother was not supportive at first, even though singing is a big part of Samoan and Niuean culture. She was concerned about it being unreliable financially. But Aivale so wanted to follow her dreams of being an Opera singer that her father had a few quiet words. Even her music teachers came round to the house in a last plea to let her go audition for a performance Art school in New Zealand …IT WORKED! Now Mum’s her chief Groupie, and has always followed her around the performance circuit.

Hitting the headlines

In 2009, she won the Lexus Song Quest, the greatest accolade for young opera singers in NZ. Fellow winners include Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Dame Malvina Major.  The Sydney Morning Herald in 2009 said of her Verdi Requiem: ‘New Zealand soprano Aivale Cole had a strong, focused and penetrating voice. It was true of pitch, with enough power to be heard over the massed choir at the end in the final Libera Me without resorting to that over-thick stentorian sound that sometimes accompanies an impressive pair of lungs’.

 

Pedigree chums

Her voice has a great pedigree, having been mentored and coached by top Australian Vocal Coach, Sharolyn Kimmorley (Sydney, Australia) and in her early years was financially supported by the Dame Malvina Major Foundation (New Zealand). Inspiring teachers include: Gregory Yurisich, Elizabeth Connell, Mirella Freni and Anthea Moller. She mentioned before singing one of her favourite songs called, ‘Malven’ by Richard Strauss that Dame Kiri Te Kanawa premiered in 1985.

Tenors of the past she would have most loved to sing with are Pavarotti and Fritz Wunderlich.  Among the live and kicking, she would love to sing with Pene Pati, Felipe Manu, Benjamin Makisi and Julien van Mellaerts. Aivale’s other New Zealand Opera singer friends based in UK are Jonathan Lemalu, Benson Wilson, Amina Edris, Isabella Moore, Philip Rhodes and Madison Nonoa.  She beams when mentioning this ever-blossoming pool of operatic Kiwi -Pacific Islanders.

 

Musical preferences

Given the choice between German and Italian, she would pick Italian, especially Verdi. ‘I’m lyric not dramatic. I’ve got a comic personality, but I can bring realness to tragedy too so the audience feels like I’ve gone through that. I love making people cry – especially men. I have to be careful not to cry myself, when I sing’. In terms of singing in different languages, she ranks Italian first, then English, French and German. ‘English is the hardest to sing with clarity because of all the dipthongs’. Well I’ll be. Did you know that…? ‘In Wagnerian terms, my voice is well-suited to a Sieglinde. I also love singing Mozart and Strauss’. And when Aivale wants, I suspect Aivale gets…

 

Samoa vs the UK

I imagined the culture shock of living here, and wondered how she has managed. Aivale loves life here but misses her family back in Australia and New Zealand.  Aivale Cole was given the honour of becoming a Chief of her mothers village, Moata’a from the Pacific Island of Samoa. ‘I have over 80 first cousins. My mother is possibly descended from the first King of Niue, King Punimata, as her maiden name was Punimata from the Village of Hakupu. King Punimata was called ‘The Gatherer’, because he united the Chiefs to make peace by common agreement’. A Niuean history site says: ‘The people gave him and his wife Fineone the chasm of Matapa as their bathing place.’ Wow, so the ultimate must-have was a private place to wash…  (MN) ‘So I’m talking to a Niuean Princess!!?’ Aivale laughs: ‘I have lots more stories!’

 

Aivale Cole’s calendar

  • 17 November: W4 Art Group Show singing at the opening night of St Albans Chiswick London.
  • 16 December: GAFA Pacific Christmas Concert at St Mary’s Putney, including songs in Samoan. Tickets here. 

 

In the pipeline

  • March to April 2024: New Zealand Homecoming Tour (after 20 years)
    Dates for future Concerts via website:  www.aivalecole.com
  • 24 March 2024: Auckland Arts Festival, New Zealand
  • October 2024: GPAC Festival (GAFA Pacific Arts Collective Festival) in London showcasing artists and the performing arts
  • Daughters‘, a song cycle on the topic of gendered violence, and ongoing equality for women and girls.

 

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Thanks to T?oga Niue

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