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An Insight into Project Prima Volta

Project Prima Volta is a programme run by non-profit organisation Prima Volta Charitable Trust located in Hawke’s Bay. Each year, around thirty students are chosen to participate within this opera coaching program. The students come from diverse backgrounds, and what brings them together is the music. The group trains together each week so they can perform at various events such as the opera that takes place during Tremains Art Deco Festival.

PPV is creating the next generation of opera lovers within New Zealand. Students receive coaching that can be used not only on stage but also in their everyday lives to help them strive for success. This opportunity allows rangatahi to discover the world of silky smooth opera in a new environment.

This programme helps teenagers not only discover their talent and love of the art form of opera, but it allows them to have a safe space and group of peers to rely on, and gives them skills to deal with adversity.

I was intrigued to know…… Why opera? I caught up with PPV student Armya Hapuku and co-founder of PPV Sarah Walmsley to find out more about Project Prima Volta.

Sarah Walmsley  

Opera provides a fantastic platform for developing young people in a variety of ways — firstly, it is extremely challenging and requires a lot of skill, including musicianship, vocal abilities, conveying drama, and telling stories. It also needs tons of teamwork to get a production together for the stage, giving rangatahi a sense of collective achievement. And finally, the emotional connection to the music and creative expression help promote wellbeing. Opera is the extreme sport of singing(!) and we think it still has great relevance for today's young singers.

Armya Hapuku

Tell us a bit about yourself

Kia ora, Ko Armya Te Amo Hapuku toku ingoa, tekau mā ono oku tau. I’m Armya, and I am currently living in the North Island, attending high school as a year 12. I’m Māori, and part Asian and European, born and raised in a small town called Wairoa but moved here to Hawke’s Bay when I was 3. I am described as being outgoing, consistent and humble — you can call me a people person. I’m a sucker for comfort and the feeling of being with people who I love and spending quality time with my whānau or friends. I come from a family where values and morals are vital essentials that you need to grow. I have an overwhelming obsession for singing, babysitting, mochas, pomegranate juice, seafood, and avocado on toast.

Who in PPV inspires you?

The impact of gaining a bond with Anna [Pierard, co-founder] probably has to be my favorite so far. She has taught me so much, has not once judged me, and has always been by my side since the start.

She believes in me so much that it makes me want to shine brighter and to sing my heart out for the world to see what my passion is and what I do best. She just has so much life in her, and always puts others first. She’s not only a mother figure to me, but she’s also like an angel. I thank her all the time for being the best inspiration.

What have been the highlights of being part of Project Prima Volta so far?

There are so many highlights, but the one that sticks out the most would have to be our mini-opera performances that we call Scena (or ‘scenes’), in which we perform different acts from parts of many operas. I performed in a trio of four in which we sang and acted out the opening scene to Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, ‘Zu Hilfe’ (the English version though, with lyrics composed by Anna — a 2019 slang version of the story). It was definitely the most abstract and amazing experience of my life and taught me so much about myself. Another highlight would have to be singing in a full opera, 'Cav and Pag' (short for Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci). I was so mind blown about being there, actually in a place I thought only existed on the movie screen. I felt so famous and so grateful. I also had a role in this opera too (in Pagliacci I played a clown). I wasn’t sure of it at first, but then I realised that I know nobody else who could do it better than me (you know that feeling when you just know this role is for you?). I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, singing on the stage with professional opera singers. It was just so heartwarming —they were all so happy for us, so sweet, and most importantly treated us as if they had always known us. Really, my highlight would have to be just joining Project Prima Volta. That is my highlight. I don’t know where I’d be without it, to be honest. It’s the only place where I feel like I can be myself, where I feel like people believe in me, where everything just seems to be alright and ok, and most importantly where I feel at peace and at home.

How did you get involved with Project Prima Volta?

I joined back in 2019, I was year 10 and studying music. I judged it at first because it wasn’t something I was used to — in my eyes, it was the type of music you hear in movies or TV ads, and only old people were interested in it — but I was wrong. I remember my music teacher going on and on about how much I’d love it, how much it was just something for me, something I was born to do in a position that was long waiting for me to help find my sense of purpose. She was right, and that’s exactly what PPV is to me. It’s my home, my safe house, and a dream come true. Katherine Winitana, who is a PPV graduate, worked at my school for a wee while working with music students mostly. She encouraged me to join and audition. I had never until that point felt like someone had faith in me even after only knowing her for five weeks. I felt as though someone believed in me. I can’t be more grateful for that moment and she’s like my big sister now because if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be where I am today. I remember auditioning too — I was nervous, (never been that nervous in my life!) but I also felt like this was the one place where there was zero judgment upon any voice types or people in general. It was such a smooth process and everyone was welcoming, supportive and kind. I didn’t feel like the ‘new person/ new girl’. I felt like they were already my family — that's how easy it was to fit in.

Do you have any performances coming up?

Yes, in next year’s summer Opera presented by Festival Opera in February. We usually have Opera singers from across the world come work with us here in Hawke’s Bay (some of our PPV grads come back to sing solos too), and we have a bunch of lovely people who come and support and help out with makeup and food, etc. We are all dying to do it all over again, and some are happy to experience being in an opera for the very first time too (not long now!).

For more information head to the PPV Facebook page