Ever since high school, rising opera stars Madison Nonoa and Filipe Manu have competed against each other in singing contests. But these days, the fiercely ambitious 23-year-olds are soulmates as well as rivals.
Hamilton musician Madison was smitten with her Australian-born, Auckland-raised beau the second she laid eyes on him at a 2010 competition, when both were just 16 years old. Madison’s shyness kept her from talking to Filipe then, but two years later their paths crossed again when the pair both went to the University of Auckland to study musicology.
“I was, of course, very excited,” smiles Madison. “In fact, I was absolutely over the moon to see the cute guy from the singing competition was in my class.”
Friendship, then romance, blossomed between the pair. Madison and her Tongan beau have now been together for three years, and say their shared dreams of stardom have helped them forge a strong relationship.
“And both being Polynesian has influenced us a lot,” says Madison, who has a Samoan mum and a Pakeha dad.
“There’s a lot of singing in our culture. I am really hopeful there will be more Polynesians coming through in opera,” she says, adding that the Sol3 Mio boys have been “lovely and encouraging”.
“Like them, we’ve been visiting low-decile schools in Auckland because we want to show Pacific Island kids that there’s this path anyone can take and they have something to offer. There is no one type of person who’s suited to opera.”
Taking on the world
Both Madison and Filipe have seen their opera careers flourish over the years. In 2015, Filipe was awarded the Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist internship by New Zealand Opera – a bittersweet moment, as it meant his girlfriend missed out on the coveted prize.
“We auditioned together and I got through, but Madison didn’t. It’s a strange feeling being happy but disappointed at the same time.”
However, this year, Madison took out the same title – and she’s now starring in the small but pivotal role of Papagena in NZ Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Today, the lovebirds live with Madison’s grandparents in Hamilton while studying under the guidance of Dame Malvina. With her softly-spoken beau also part of the chorus for The Magic Flute, Madison and Filipe are preparing to juggle living and working together. And they also hope to study together, with both songbirds applying to the same universities in the United States.
“The past couple of years have taught us how to roll with the punches,” says Madison. “Plus, Filipe is so calm. He’s helped me to see the bigger picture in life and we work together so well.”
Filipe enthuses, “Even though we’re still competing against each other, we’re a great team. I’m quite reserved, while Madison is much more outgoing. She makes me feel like I can take on the world, which is really important in this profession!”
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