Young Samoan tenor Darren Pene Pati claims Dame Joan Sutherland’s legacy prize.

The Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Opera Foundation has declared 24-year-old Darren Pene Pati winner of the second Bel Canto Award. The New Zealand-based Samoan tenor sang The Flower Song from Carmen and other favourites at yesterday’s finals, held at the Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

The winner and runners-up were announced in the presence of Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales. The judging panel – opera singers Joan Carden, Bernadette Cullen and Rosemary Gunn – joined compere Stuart Maunder and Bel Canto Award founder maestro Bonynge, who is in Sydney to conduct Handel’s Rodelinda at the City Recital Hall on October 20.  

“Beautiful singing is the basis of bel canto,” said Bonynge. “It is more than just singing; it’s creating living, dramatic characters who sing gloriously. Darren Pene Pati does just that.” 

Pati receives a $30,000 scholarship and a coveted place at the 2013 Georg Solti Accademia summer school in Italy valued at $10,000. The prestigious institution specialises in the art of bel canto singing, each year admitting only 12 singers from around the world to work with celebrated artists including Frederica von Stade, Mirella Freni, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Bonynge himself. Sir Thomas Allen and Renata Scotto will be among Pati’s mentors next year.

In July 2010, Pati was one of the Three Pacific Tenors who sang the national anthem for the All Blacks vs South Africa game in Wellington. He has spent the last year studying under Welsh tenor Dennis O ‘Neill at the Cardiff Academy of Voice, where he intends to continue his education next year.

Second place was awarded to 25-year-old soprano Emma Moore from NSW, receiving $6,000, and the Deborah Riedel Third Prize, valued at $3,000, went to 27-year-old soprano Naomi Johns, also from NSW. The competition was established in 2010 to honour Dame Joan Sutherland’s legacy and her commitment to nurturing young Australian singers. Bonynge, her widower and lifelong collaborator, celebrated his 82nd birthday last week.