Feature on the NTAC 2024 Winner: Sarah Mileham

Sarah Mileham, the Winner of the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2024 has recently been busy playing the role of Maria Bertram in NZ Opera’s production of Mansfield Park, an opera by Jonathan Dove based on the Jane Austen novel. Sarah took some time to answer a few questions for us about her background, her career, and her future aspirations.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did your passion for music begin and when did you know you wanted to study opera?

Kia ora. My name is Sarah Mileham and I’m a 21-year-old soprano of Korean, British and New Zealand decent. Growing up in Tairua and Cambridge, I was always singing and dancing to anyone that would watch. After moving to Tauranga for schooling, my love for classical music was born through involvement in choirs, orchestra, and school musicals (specifically West Side Story). From there, I decided to pursue further education and fell in love with Opera after watching the dress rehearsal of The Marriage of Figaro put on by NZ Opera in 2021. 

Why did you decide to apply for the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition?

I had heard about the competition through friends that had competed the year before! They said it was a great competition that was made accessible to everyone in the country by making the preliminary rounds video entries. In 2023, I had just started to put myself into competitions around NZ, and the Nicholas Tarling Aria seemed like a good step. I thought that I’d throw my name in the hat by sending in some videos and I was delighted to find out I’d been invited to the Final Round!

What do you think is the most important thing to consider when participating in an aria / singing competition?

Sometimes it can feel strange to sing in such a confronting and inherently vulnerable situation, but I think the thing that always helps me is getting deeply rooted in the story you’re trying to tell. Once you get away from being yourself in a room of people who are comparing and analysing what you’re doing, you can find yourself as a girl singing to her father, asking him to let her marry her true love. When you are able to lose yourself in the character and story, which also comes from many hours of practice and familiarity, the worries of competition can fade away.

What projects are you currently working on?

Most recently, I had the pleasure of singing as Adina from Donizetti’s Elixir of Love for NZ Operas Schools tour. I also made my principal debut as Maria Bertram in Jonathan Dove’s opera Mansfield Park for NZ Opera.

I am looking forward to singing in the chorus of NZ Opera’s Le comte Ory by Rossini and I’ll end my year by singing the role of Countess Ceprano in NZ Opera’s Rigoletto by Verdi. Additionally, I am currently studying towards my Honours in Music at Waikato University under the tutelage of soprano Anna Leese.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A wonderful teacher of mine once said: “The sound is in you, all you need to do is want to share it.” I often feel as though singing can become such a big, complicated thing. So, when I feel flustered and overwhelmed, I try to think back to the gift that music can be and ultimately the only thing we need to do is give it.

What is the hardest thing about being an opera singer?

The dreaded imposter syndrome! I feel as though a part of being an opera singer is always trying to be better. And in the pursuit of getting as close to perfection as one can get, it’s easy to become self-critical. At least for me, that always leads to feeling a bit strange when good things are happening, and I get positive feedback and results! But this is remedied by having lovely friends and peers that help build each other up.

If you could perform a lead role in one opera that you’ve never performed before, what would it be?

If I was to think of what I’d like to sing at this stage, I’d love to sing the roles of Liu from Puccini’s Turandot, or either of Mozart’s Susanna from The Marriage of Figaro or Ilia from Idomeneo. In the future, my dream roles would include Mimi from Puccini’s La boheme, the title role in Madam Butterfly, and of course Violetta from Verdi’s La Traviata.

Is there a dream opera venue you would like to perform in one day?

I think I’ll aim high and say all the iconic spots! The Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House, and the Sydney Opera House. Pretty much a classic opera singer bingo.

What are your goals and plans for the future?

I am hoping to do an additional 1–2 years of study and prep in NZ before heading overseas to either Europe or America. My goal is to find a teacher that can give me the best foundation for beginning a working career. Until then, I’d like to spend my time in NZ performing and competing as much as possible.

Which aria(s) are you planning on singing in the Nicholas Tarling Winner’s Concert in  June and what aspects of performing with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra are you looking forward to most?

I will be singing the well-known O mio babbino caro from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi. There may be other things in the works but until then it’s a surprise!

To hear Sarah in action at the Manukau Symphony Orchestra’s Family concert at the Due Drop Events Centre Manukau on Sunday 16 June at 5.00pm visit and buy your tickets today!

Feature on the NTAC 2024 Runner-up:
Alfred Fonoti-Fuimaono

The Runner-up of the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2024 is very much in demand as a rising opera star here in Aotearoa. Alfred took a few moments out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his passion for singing and his career plans.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did your passion for music begin and when did you know you wanted to study opera?

I began studying at a very young age in our church choir, youth group, and every night during family prayer. Having five siblings, mum was always big on making sure the hymns we sang during prayer time had at least three harmonies with the melody, so we learned to make beautiful music without realising. This made school choirs and cultural groups enjoyable for me, and in my final years of high school I joined the youth initiative Project Prima Volta. Through this programme, with no prior experience or singing lessons, I had the chance to perform as a chorus member in Festival Opera’s very first production, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. This programme is where my interest for classical music flourished, which lead me to Dame Malvina Major, who encouraged me to attend the University of Waikato, where I have since completed a Masters in Advanced Opera Studies.

Why did you decide to apply for the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition?

Aside from the financial support competitions can provide, performing under pressure for a panel is excellent practice. Nerves are inevitable and can throw a performance if one hasn’t become accustomed to dealing with them; therefore, competitions can prepare you for essential auditions for music institutions and opera companies. Also, I competed last year when my younger brother, Emmanuel, and his partner, Katherine Winitana, won joint first prize, which also motivated me to compete again in the hope of being part of the Tarling Aria Competition’s history, alongside my brother. 

What do you think is the most important thing to consider when participating in an aria / singing competition?

I think it’s important to understand that competitions are pressure-filled, high-stakes, and vulnerable environments; therefore, it’s imperative to be supportive and kind to those around us. Our singing colleagues are all very talented, making the adjudicator’s job significantly challenging, so enter with an open mind and don’t let the outcome discourage you. The career is a marathon rather than a sprint so we must trust the process, and not forget to enjoy the journey. 

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m excited to sing the roles of Archangel of Agony and The Priest in Auckland Choral’s production of Dream of Gerontius in June. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” This advice is from one of my favourite books, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. 

What is the hardest thing about being an opera singer?

Spending time away from loved ones.

If you could perform a lead role in one opera that you’ve never performed before, what would it be?

The title role of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Is there a dream opera venue you would like to perform in one day?

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

What are your goals and plans for the future?

I’m looking to further my development abroad in the next year in hopes of performing on as many different stages as possible across the globe, and make music with the best musicians on the planet. I have three opera-singing younger brothers, and I’d love to perform with them in a professional production in leading roles.

Which aria(s) are you planning on singing in the Nicholas Tarling Winner’s Concert in  June and what aspects of performing with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra are you looking forward to most?

I’ll be singing O Carlo ascolta… Io Morro from Verdi’s Don Carlo. It’s been a dream of mine to perform this aria with orchestra. My favourite video on YouTube is Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s performance of this aria during the 1989 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.  

To hear Alfred in action at the Manukau Symphony Orchestra’s Family concert at the Due Drop Events Centre Manukau on Sunday 16 June at 5.00pm visit and buy your tickets today!

To hear Alfred perform the role of Archangel of Agony and The Priest in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius with Auckland Choral at the Auckland Town Hall on Sunday 23 June at 5.00pm visit to buy tickets!

Congratulations to all the competitors in the Final Round 2024

It was an extraordinary evening of entertainment at the Due Drop Events Centre on Friday 9 February 2024.

The evening commenced with four finalists competing in the 18 & under category. Amelia Blessan was up first, with her heartfelt rendition of Adele’s iconic ballad ‘Hello’. Following her, the adorable six-year-old Mason Lin charmed the audience with his rendition of Bernstein’s ‘My House’ from Peter Pan. Saara Desai then gave a passionate interpretation of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’, and the category concluded with Venessa Joyce’s superb performance of ‘Vadrai, carino’ from Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni.

The Over 18 category commenced with soprano Emma Jones gracing the stage with her delightful rendition of Arditi’s ‘Il Bacio’. Ridge Ponini then gave a stirring performance of ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Puccini’s Tosca and this was followed by soprano Jessica Webber’s illuminating rendition of ‘Song to the Moon’ from Dvorak’s Rusalka. Next was soprano Jasmine Jessen’s mesmerising performance of ‘Me voila seule’ from Bizet’s Les pecheurs de perles. The evening’s enchantment continued with tenor Taylor Wallbank’s poignant performance of ‘E la solita storia de pastore; from Bizet’s L’Arlesiana’. Soprano Tayla Alexander then graced the stage with her rendition of ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ from Puccini’s La Rondine, bringing the first half to a close.

The second half unfolded with soprano Breony Bearman delivering a captivating rendition of ‘Einsam in trüben Tagen’ from Wagner’s Lohengrin. Next bariton Alred Fonoti-Fuimaono gave an awe-inspiring performance of ‘O Carlo ascolta’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo. The spellbinding atmosphere continued as soprano Rhiannon Cooper graced the stage with ‘Il est doux, il est bon’ from Massenet’s Herodiade. Next, soprano Olga Shanina delivered a stunning performance of ‘Violetta’s Aria’ from Verdi’s La Traviata and this was followed by baritone Thomas Roshol’s fantastic rendition of ‘Rivolgete a lui sguardo’ from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. The final performance of the evening came from soprano Sarah Mileham and an incredible performance of ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccin’s Gianni Schicchi. 

All singers were accompanied by the extraordinarily versatile Rosemary Barnes and the evening was hosted by MC Jack Bourke. Thanks also to our judges Patricia Wright, Uwe Grodd, and Fay McNeil. 


The Runner-Up is Alfred Fonoti-Fuimaono.

The Most Promising Award goes to Breony Bearman and Ridge Ponini.

The 18 & Under Winner is Venessa Joyce.

Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2024 Final Round - Friday 9 February

Thank you to everyone who entered the Digital Round for the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2024 and congratulations to all our finalists! The Final Round of the competition will take place on Friday 9 February at the Due Drop Events Centre, Manukau, with the 18 & Under finalists performing at 7.00pm followed by the Over 18s finalists at 7.30pm. The winners will be announced at the end of the evening. 

Judges for the competition this year are Uwe Grodd and Patricia Wright and the official accompanist is Rosemary Barnes. 

Join us on Friday 9 February and hear some of Aotearoa’s most promising vocal talent. Attendance at the event is free and there is no need to purchase a ticket – simply turn up and enjoy the evening! Drinks and light refreshments will be provided after the event. 

18 & Under Finalists

 Mason Lin, Saara Desai, Amelia Blessan, Venessa Joyce, Sofia Gong

Over 18 Finalists

Taylor Wallbank, Rhiannon Cooper, Alfred Fuimaono, Tayla Alexander, Thomas Røshol, Jasmine Jessen, Emma Jones, Breony Bearman, Sarah Mileham, Jess Webber, Ridge Ponini, Samuel McKeever, Olga Shanina

Australia success for NTAC 2023 winner Emmanuel Fonoti Fuimaono

Huge congratulations to Emmanuel Fonoti Fuimaono, winner of the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023, who on 31st August 2023 won the IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition. An outstanding achievement  that culminated in a performance with the Opera Australia Orchestra that was broadcast on 2MBS Fine Music Sydney.

Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2024 opening 25th September 2023

We are excited to announce the opening date for the Digital Round of the 2024 competition, Monday 25th September 2023. This competition will also include a new 18 and Under prize category of $1000. Stay tuned for more information coming soon!

MSO Family Concert – Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023 Winners Performance

NTAC 2023 Winners Katherine Winitana and Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono

21st May 2023 – Winners of the Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023 Katherine Winitana, Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono and Runner-Up Maeve Herd were stars of the MSO Family Concert, held at the Due Drop Events Centre, Manukau.

Performing to a full house, along with piano soloist Shan Liu and saxophonist Tomomi Johnston, the winners performed one piece each with orchestra and a winner’s duet, conducted by Wellington-based Brent Stewart. These performances were recorded as part of the Aria Competition prize.

Performance by Winner Katherine Winitana – ‘Chi Bel Sogno Di Doretta’ from Puccini’s La Rondine

Performance by Winner Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono – ‘Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz’ from Lehar’s Das Land Des Lachelns

Perfomance by Runner-up Maeve Herd – ‘Marietta’s Lied’ from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt

Duet by Katherine Winitana and Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono – ‘O Soave Faniciulla’ from Puccini’s La Boheme

Highlights from the MSO Family Concert

Inaugural Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023 “… and the WINNER is!”

Over two exciting nights, Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st February 2023, thirteen exceptional finalists competed for a prize pool of $9,000 for the Inaugural Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023 on the stage of the BNZ Theatre at the Due Drop Events Centre, Manukau.

The First Prize of $5,000 was shared by Katherine Winitana, soprano and Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono, tenor. Katherine, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngaariki Kaiputahi, born in Flaxmere, Hawke’s Bay, wooed the judges and the audience with a moving rendition of Puccini’s ‘Chi’il bel sogno di Doretta’ from La Rondine. Emmanuel gave a captivating performance of Massenet’s ‘Pourquoi me reveiller’. Maeve Herd placed as the secure second spot winning $3,000  with an inspiring “Eccomi in lieta vesta… Oh quante volte!” aria by Bellini.

Alexandra Francis, soprano and tenor Shiddharth Chand  were joint winners of the $1,000 ‘Most Promising Singer Award’.  Alexandra transported us into Handel’s plot of Julius Ceasar when Cleopatra contemplating her demise sings “I shall lament my fate so cruel and so wicked, as long as I breathe”. Shiddharth displayed fine virtuosity and poked good fun at ‘Ah! Mes Amis’ by Donizetti from La Fille du Regiment.

The Finalists’ Concert was a huge success. Competing singers were selected from over 50 diverse entries. Rosemary Barnes, the competition’s official accompanist, provided exemplary support for every nuance of each singer and style throughout the evening. Nicholas Reid, MC for the night,  gave succinct and informative introductions to each aria.
The BNZ Theatre, with its excellent accoustics, first-class Steinway Concert Grand and comfortable seating, proved an inviting venue for this new event which is surely here to stay for years to come.


23rd February 2023

2023 Programme

Download the 2023 NTAC Programme

Inaugural Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023, MSO Finalists Announced

The Nicholas Tarling Aria Competition 2023 organised by the Manukau Symphony Orchestra is proud to announce the Finalists!

Come along to hear the Final Round Recital, 7.30pm Tuesday 21st February, Due Drop Events Centre, Manukau to compete for the Cash prize of $ 5,000.

FREE tickets through Eventfinda

Our finalists are:

Aidan Phillips –Baritone

Alexandra Francis – Soprano

Shiddharth Chand – Tenor

Alfred Fonoti Fuimaono – Baritone

Erica Paterson – Soprano

Fa’amanu Fonoti-Fuimaono – Baritone

Jasmine Jessen – Soprano

Jessica Webber – Soprano

Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono – Tenor

Maeve Herd – Soprano

Katherine Winitana – Soprano

Rhiannon Cooper – Soprano

Ridge Ponini – Tenor

Tayla Iris Alexander – Soprano

We thank all those who took the time and had the courage to send a recording for our contest. As it was our first year, we wanted to encourage all ages and styles to participate in this competition – to see who is singing in our community and to shape the future of this highly anticipated competition.

There were over 50 talented and differing entrants, from Intermediate age to those in their 50s, with a range of styles – lieder, singer-songwriter, musicals, as well as operatic aria. It certainly made a challenge for our judges, and highlighted for the competition a need to create more categories to give more singers a chance to reach the stage at the Due Drop Events Centre.

We look forward to supporting our finalists, and hope to see you on 21st February.

We thank the Nicholas Tarling Charitable Trust for their ongoing and generous support.


9th February 2023

NTAC 2023 Judges Announced

Nicholas Reid – MC

Rosemary Barnes – Accompanist and Consultant

Rosemary Barnes studied in London with Franz Reizenstein (Royal Academy of Music) and Lamar Crowson. Her interest in languages led to 28 years in London, working mainly with singers.  She was on the music staff of the English National Opera from 1980-88, and taught singers and pianists at the Royal College of Music. She also undertook extensive free-lance opera work with Glyndebourne Touring Opera, BBCTV, Musica nel Chiostro in Italy, Opera Factory and Opera Northern Ireland, and performed in concert at the Wigmore Hall, Usher Hall, South Bank and BBC Radio 3.  She was assistant conductor on more than a dozen recordings for Opera Rara (bel canto specialists). 

In New Zealand, Rosemary led the Postgraduate Opera Diploma at the University of Auckland from 1993-99. She currently coaches Emerging Artists for Opera NZ, and has been official accompanist at the Gisborne International Music Competition since 1994.  Performances include concerts with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Lesley Garrett, Sir Donald McIntyre, Emil Chudnovsky (violin), Robert Aitken and Leone Buyse (flute), and with the Trio Australasia (Alisa Willis flute and Ann Blackburn oboe) on cruise ships and in Germany.  Recordings include three CDs for the Continuum label. In September 2015 she will perform Chopin’s F minor Concerto with the Ensemble Polymnia in Auckland.

Rosemary was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to music in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours.


Uwe Grodd – Adjudicator

Uwe Grodd has been the Music Director of the Manukau Symphony Orchestra since its beginning in 1993. Grodd’s contributions to classical music have brought him considerable international acclaim and he has served as adjudicator for many competitions in New Zealand and in Europe.

In 1997 he joined Naxos Records as an Exclusive Artist and to date, he has made world premiere recordings of more than 100 works. Grodd initially gained worldwide attention when awarded First Prize at the Cannes Classical Awards 2000 for Best 18th Century Orchestral Recording with Hungary’s Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia. Two Editor’s Choice awards, UK followed and the coveted International Record Review Outstanding award for recordings featuring the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Bournemouth Symphony, the Gaevle Symphony, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Performance highlights include eight concerts with the Mexico City Philharmonic and sell-out seasons of Handel’s rediscovered opera Imeneo in the Halle Opera house, when he was awarded the Badge of Honour for his services to the Handel Festival and the City of Halle, Handel’s birthplace.  Grodd is equally committed to the music of his own time, commissioning more than 50 works from New Zealand composers. He conducted the premiere season of the multi-media opera Galileo and was Artistic Director of Len Lye the opera, with music by Eve de Castro-Robinson. In 2021 he conducted the premiere season of the opera Ihitai ‘Avei‘a Star Navigator  by Tim Finn with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Choral and the Graduate Choir for New Zealand Opera for a sell-out season. The production was staged again at the end of last year with Grodd conducting Orchestra Wellington, Orpheus and Signature choirs and members of the NZ Opera chorus.

Uwe Grodd is Artistic Director of Auckland Choral. He is Professor Emeritus of the University of Auckland and is Post Graduate Supervisor in Music at the Canterbury University.


Patricia Wright – Adjudicator

Patricia Wright has performed regularly in opera, orchestral concerts, festivals, recitals and CD recordings. She is one of New Zealand’s best known and versatile sopranos.

She studied under New Zealand’s iconic Dame Sister Mary Leo and Australia’s famous Dame Joan Hammond and now is a revered tutor in her own right.

Patricia gained recognition singing at the major venues in London and throughout the UK. She recorded for the BBC in both live performances and recording studios. She was placed second in the prestigious Benson and Hedges Gold Award for singers and represented NZ in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.  Returning to NZ in 1993, she continued to sing major opera roles, guest artist concert appearances with leading orchestras, oratorio and recital concerts both at home and internationally.

After teaching singing at the University of Auckland for eight years, Patricia continues to impart her passion, performing skills and experience to students and now spends a large part of her career as a vocal coach/tutor and continues to be a national singing competition adjudicator whilst still performing.

Her most recent performance was the role of Mrs Grose in NZ Opera’s production of The Turn of the Screw.

Rosemary Barnes - Accompanist & Consultant
Patricia Wright – Adjudicator
Uwe Grodd – Adjudicator