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Filipe Manu: On top of the world in Barcelona

Tongan-Kiwi tenor Filipe Manu
The Tongan-Kiwi tenor Filipe Manu keeps on winning.
Source: RNZ]

Paris, FRANCE — In 2022, he took out the Lexus Song Quest in Aotearoa. Now he's added the 2024 Concurso Tenor Viñas to his list of achievements, which he jointly won with Brazilian mezzo-soprano Marcela Rahal, sharing a first prize of around NZ$22,000 each.

Just as important, the winners will get a chance to perform at Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu in the coming 2024/25 season.

When RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump caught up with Filipe Manu, the tenor had already moved on from Spain to Paris, where he is preparing for his next role.

Crump asked which award mattered more: Lexus in 2022, or his latest triumph in Barcelona?

Manu says while it's hard to go past the sentimental value of winning a New Zealand song quest he'd grown up watching and wanting to be part of, the entrants in the Concurso came from all around the world.

"These are the best of the young singers coming through under the age of 35."

Manu was one of over 500 entrants who had to go through four rounds just to get to the final.

"It comes down to the smallest of things in performances, that sort of distinguish between those who get through and those who don't."

Manu's participation in the 2024 Concurso was a close run thing.

Illness forced him to cancel his first audition in London, but the organisers "very generously offered to give me a spot to audition in Barcelona".

Those auditions ran over several days and involved hundreds of singers.

"I don't know how the judges do it, to be honest".

He had just one aria to convince the panel he was worthy of progressing to the next round, but convince them he did.

And all this has to be done alone. Manu has no teacher, no vocal coach, no entourage with him.

"You go out there, and you're the one who has to stand up there on stage and produce the goods really... You develop this inner sense, it's more the feeling of how things are when I'm singing, how my body feels when I sing. My ears, I can't trust them at the best of times, so I definitely zero in on the feeling and how it all feels when I'm singing."

When Manu heard his name read out at the end of the Concurso finals, he wasn't sure where he'd come.

"Everything was announced in Catalan... I was a bit vague on what was going on, because my Catalan's a bit rusty."

Luckily, a friend and fellow competitor sitting next to Manu on stage was able to fill the tenor in on the details.

While the competition is intense, Manu sees the other entrants as colleagues rather than rivals. He knows co-winner Marcela Rahal from other competitions. "It was great to be first placed with her".

"You make some really good friends".

Manu was one of the first intake of promising young New Zealanders with the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, and he remains in awe of what the great soprano achieved so far from home.

He may not have had any family in the hall when he won the Concurso, but he was on Zoom with them very soon after.

Dame Kiri might have been able to make one phone call a month when she first arrived in Europe in the 1960s. "but now, with technology, it feels like family and friends are just a text away".

As for the other part of his first prize, singing a role in Barcelona's "Gran Teatre del Liceu" Manu already knows what he will be doing, but isn't quite able to say what it is yet.

"It's in the Bel Canto repertoire...which is all that I can say at the moment" he laughs.

But "that takes it down to three composers".

Whether it's Rossini, Bellini or Donizetti, we're sure theatre-goers in Barcelona will lap it up come the next opera season.