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Career

Sol3 Mio's Pene Pati’s happy homecoming

The Kiwi tenor returns to New Zealand take up a dream role.

By Donna Fleming
We know him as one third of the hugely successful Kiwi operatic trio Sol3 Mio.
But for the past two years, while Sol3 Mio has been on hiatus, Pene Pati has been making a name for himself in the United States as an exciting new opera talent.
Since winning a place on San Francisco Opera's prestigious Adler Fellowship programme for up-and-coming artists, the Kiwi-Samoan singer has earned accolades for achievements such as playing one of the leads in a production of Verdi's Rigoletto. He has also sung at New York's famous Carnegie Hall and performed the American national anthem at a baseball game.
But now, the genial tenor is more than happy to be at home and to perform for Kiwi opera fans in Madame Butterfly.
Hitting a high note: Pene has reunited with cousin Moses and brother Amitai for a summer tour.
Pene (30) explains, "I have always wanted to sing in an opera in my own country, so it is a dream to have been asked to do that. I feel very honoured."
He's playing the part of Lt Pinkerton in Festival Opera's production of the Puccini favourite, being directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand in Napier next month. As well as working with other top-class professional singers, he's looking forward to performing with young people from Prima Volta, a programme that nurtures talented teenagers.
"I didn't have a typical path into opera – it was something I knew nothing about when I was young. So it's going to be cool to help mentor the kids."
As children, Pene and his younger brother Amitai (28) sang in the rest home their father managed, but weren't introduced to choral music until they were pupils at Aorere College in South Auckland. Their first taste of opera was at the University of Auckland, where they studied music.
As children, Pene (left) and Amitai would sing for residents at a rest home.
The tenor brothers formed Sol3 Mio with their cousin, baritone Moses Mackay (27), to raise money for further study in Wales. Their phenomenal success – their self-titled first album has gone eight times platinum – took them by surprise and it has been a juggling act to balance performing as Sol3 Mio with furthering their careers as opera singers.
When Pene won a place in the acclaimed Adler Fellowship, Sol3 Mio decided to take a two-year break while he learned as much as he could at what he describes as "opera boot camp".
"It's been tough," admits Pene.
"You are thrown into everything, you're constantly studying and you have to work hard. But it is the most prestigious programme in the US and it has really helped me to hone my craft."
The highlight of his time in the Adler Fellowship was landing the part of the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto last year.
The tenor is pictured performing with Moses (left) and Amitai in 2016.
"It is very rare for a new artist to get a main role – they normally go to the big stars in the company. So it was a huge achievement for me."
But what made Rigoletto so special for Pene was not just the accolades he received in his first major role – critics described him as "formidable" and "superb" – but the fact that his wife Amina Edris and brother Amitai were also on stage with him as members of the supporting cast.
Egyptian-born, New Zealand- raised Amina (28) was accepted into the Adler Fellowship at the same time as Pene, while Amitai got in the following year.
"To have all three of us in the Adler Fellowship at the same time is pretty amazing, but for us all to be in the same opera was a momentous occasion. It was the first time the company had had three family members on stage at
the same time and I don't think you will ever see it again."
The opera star married wife Amina at Villa Maria Estate in 2016.
Pene and Amina, who have just celebrated their second wedding anniversary, will be on stage together again later this year, playing lovers in New Zealand Opera's production of The Elixir of Love.
"We've sung duets in concerts, but not been each other's love interests in an opera before. This should be interesting!"
Meanwhile, Pene and Amitai have been back performing with cousin Moses in Sol3 Mio's Christmas and summer tour around New Zealand.
"It's been nice to just be us, to have a bit of fun on stage while doing what we love most, singing," Pene tells. "It feels like we are hanging out having a good time, but there just happens to be all these people listening to us. I've missed doing that – it's been great."
While Pene has other opera work lined up, including another role with San Francisco Opera and one with Opera Bordeaux in France, the good news for Sol3 Mio fans is that plans are in the works for a bigger tour around New Zealand.
Pene is hoping Sol3 Mio will also get to tour the US. The trio, who have released an album of Christmas music, did a one-off Christmas concert in San Francisco in December and received a great reception.
"They loved the music, but they also loved the humour. Although we can't tell jandal jokes – they've got no idea what we're talking about!"
It requires careful planning, but Pene, Amitai and Moses will somehow manage to fit their individual singing careers in around their goal to "take Sol3 Mio to the world", says Pene.
"And we will always make sure we come home," he promises. "No matter where singing takes us, New Zealand will always be home."

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