5 May 2024

Project Prima Volta: A decade of helping teenagers to find their voices

From Culture 101, 2:05 pm on 5 May 2024

A Hawke's Bay charitable trust is celebrating 10 years of sharing a passion for opera and helping teenagers to find their voices. 

The Project Prima Volta community programme was founded by professional mezzo soprano Anna Pierard and her husband Jose Aparicio, a conductor and musician.

Anna Pierard

Anna Pierard founded Prima Volta Charitable Trust alongside her husband in 2014. Photo: Supplied

Pierard told Culture 101’s Perlina Lau that the pair began the programme to "bring the world to Hawke’s Bay".

Pierard has had a successful career in opera - completing the Dutch National Opera Academy, a two-year masters programme in Amsterdam, before going on to star as Hermia in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Zita in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi

She and Aparicio returned to Aotearoa in 2009 so Pierard could star in the Auckland Philharmonia's Madame Butterfly.

They founded the Prima Volta Charitable Trust in 2014.

Thirty Hawke's Bay teenagers take part in the programme - which involves 12 months of coaching and mentoring, culminating in a performance in a classical opera - every year.

Pierard said she was inspired by the late Dr Ian Prior, an arts patron who was active in supporting the Wellington Sculpture Trust and who supported the commissioning of work for many artists. 

She recalled him telling her: "Those to whom much is given, much is expected." That fuelled her desire to share her knowledge and pass on the opportunities she was given to the next generation, she said.

"There’s no talent. Talent is really not a thing. It’s actually about the intersection of opportunity and appetite. If those things happen, that’s where the magic starts."

Opera was just one slice of the Project Prima Volta pie, she said - it also helped teenagers build confidence and self-esteem. 

"I think the hardest thing to do in this world is to turn up, right? What we find with young people is that they do. And that’s the hardest bit."

Pierard said it was a big thing to put a complete beginner - someone who may not consider themselves capable of singing or performing - in a room with an expert or master.

"Fundamentally it’s an important message to say to someone ‘you’re totally worth of my time, even though I’ve come here from another country - I’m going to spend time coaching you, even though you didn’t know opera existed'."