Melbourne-born mezzo-soprano Bronte Zemlic was announced the winner of the 2017 Australian International Opera Awards (AIOA) Scholarship. The scholarship, worth up to A$50,000 and covering all tuition, board and lodging, travel expenses, and a living allowance for 10 months, will provide Zemlic with the opportunity to commence a Masters of Arts (Voice) under the direction of world-renowned tenor and teacher Dennis O’Neill at the Wales International Academy of Voice (WIAV) in Cardiff in September 2017.

The Academy, formed in 2006, selects only 12 to 15 young opera singers worldwide to study each year and has paved the way for many singers to go on to successful careers. Australian sopranos Siobhan Stagg and Greta Bradman were the recipients of the award in 2012 and 2013 respectively, going on to forge careers on both national and international stages. In addition to the scholarship, a special AIOA Study Award has been awarded to mezzo-soprano Fiona McArdle from South Australia.

Limelight spoke to Bronte Zemlic about her musical journey, what winning the award means to her, and her plans for the future.

Could you tell us a bit about where you were born and how you got into opera singing?

I was born in Melbourne. I am the middle child of five. I think that gives me the right to be the loudest! Apparently when I was two years old after watching Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire I went around the house trying to sing Figaro’s aria Largo al factotum.  I didn’t start my vocal training until I was nearly 18 years old. Then my aunt took me to see my first opera when I was 19, La Sonnambula with Australian soprano Emma Matthews. At the end of it I was completely lost for words, I knew this was my path!

Five years ago I was in the UK working as a groom for a professional polo team and going to London to have lessons on my very rare days off. I was encouraged to sing for this this man called Dennis O’Neill, so I travelled to Cardiff as a young 21- year-old who only knew that she loved this thing called ‘opera’. I remember walking out of his studio and I knew I had just met someone who was truly remarkable. Ever since that day I said I would return to study with Dennis.

What does winning the Award mean to you?

I have to be honest, I didn’t think that it was possible for me to win this award. The level of talent of our singers here in Australia is incredibly high, and when you team that with the utterly amazing calibre of singers who have won this award previously…

I cannot begin to explain the rush of emotion I felt the day I found out I was the winner. It means the opportunity of a lifetime and I intend to exhaust all opportunities and words of wisdom that may come my way, because it is beyond a privilege to have won this award.

What do you hope to get out of your time in Cardiff?

I cannot wait to begin this next chapter, I feel that I have never been in a better place vocally than where I am now. After having the opportunity to work with Dennis on a couple of occasions I know he is the best fit for me in taking my voice to the next level. WIAV is heavily based on technique and is known for polishing its graduates to the highest standard, which is why I chose this programme of study.

What would you hope to be doing once your time with Dennis O’Neill is complete?

There are a few paths I am considering at this stage. Young artist programmes, competitions and opera school are all front runners. But I am very eager to see where this next year takes me. I have a feeling it will be a very big year full of growth and excitement and I am ready and open to it all.