Imagine a music concert with no flashy neon lights but chandeliers dripping with diamonds, plush red velvet curtains draping the stage under gold-carved, vaulted ceilings and more gold (yes, more gold than your urban eyes can imagine) stunningly fixed onto the details of every wall. This is not American Idol. This is opera. The opera stage is where singers become legends in the eyes of musical empires (you know, the owner of that record label who writes Madonna’s or Justin Bieber’s checks), where opera stars get summoned to sing encores before kings and queens, and where wealthy audience members dress in custom-made Versace gowns and Valentino tuxedos to experience arguably the highest form of art. On a stage of that caliber, you will find the aspiring tenor, Ta’u Pupu’a, belting out an emotional, classical masterpiece with sophistication that elevates one to nirvana.
“Opera is what brings life to me,” says Pupu’a, “the energy from my soul to your soul… communicating [with the audience] back and forth.” He believes singing is spiritual and is doing everything to become a master in his craft.
“It’s not ‘practice makes perfect’,” Pupu’a states firmly, “it is ‘perfect practice makes perfect‘.” Pupu’a is no stranger to perfect practice as success came early to him in his first career as a former NFL football player. At six-foot five, Pupu’a excelled on the football field, was a recipient of a full athletic scholarship to Weber State University, and was drafted to the NFL by the Cleveland Browns before moving on to play for the Baltimore Ravens.
“The only way I could get an education was by sports,“ Pupu’a admits, “I put all my energy into football.” Pupu’a speaks of his NFL career with gratitude. “It gave me a taste of honey. The NFL provided me with a blessing to see this great world of ours. It gave me the opportunity to help out.” He bought a house for his brother who was living in a one bedroom apartment and put his sister’s kids in private schools. He believes in giving people a chance to stand on their own.
“We were poor. I’m not ashamed to say that,” Pupu’a says of his childhood growing up in Utah.
He was born the youngest of nine children in the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago in the South Pacific, and moved to Salt Lake City at the tender age of ten where the seeds of his love for music were planted in church by a mesmerizing chorus of Tongans singing Tongan hymns.
“Everyone needs a little push.” Pupu’a says.
After a foot injury ended a brief NFL career, karma came to Pupu’a at the Metropolitan Opera House where he received a big push into the world of opera from the international, famed, and legendary opera singer, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. “[The Dame] looked up at me and saw that I was Polynesian and said, ‘I would like to help you’.”
The Dame is a Maori operatic soprano and one of the best of the best opera singers on the planet. After a vigorous one month training for an audition, Pupu’a soon earned admission to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City and will complete his tenor training this upcoming Spring in May.
Perfect practice is a discipline Pupu’a continued in the summer of 2009 where he studied in Italy at the Georg Solti Academy of Bel Canto, a prestigious academy with only twelve singers selected from all over the world to study a renowned course with the best of the best of operatic recording artists. The Academy nurtured several generations of some of the greatest opera singers ever to grace the opera stage including Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Renee Fleming to name a few.
Pupu’a has irrefutably made his stand as a Polynesian pioneer in opera. He has breached the walls of what was once deemed an impossible art to master and did so with an undying passion and genuine spirituality. He is a master in his own right and the affect of his gifted voice knows no boundaries. Pupu’a is truly a hidden gem who exercised nothing but perseverance to get to where he is today. The world of opera now has a Tongan voice in its midst… and it’s about time. Opera will never be the same with Pupu’a in it.
Look out for his upcoming performance this Spring where he will appear as Rinnuccio in Gianni Schicchi for Juilliard Opera. This summer he will make his first international opera debut as Cavaradossi in Tosca (his favorite opera) for Southern Opera in New Zealand, Sydney Opera House in Australia, then continue on to perform in Norway, Germany, and Hong Kong. For more information on Pupu’a and his future appearances/performances, visit his official website.
Check out the video of Ta’u Pupu’a at The Kennedy Center:
Article Written By: Marina Latu
*All Photos of Ta’u Pupu’a Courtesy of Ta’u Pupu’a
*YouTube videos “Tosca Rehearsal in Brooklyn” and “Tosca A Rehearsal” by packy320
*YouTube video “Terrence McNally on Master Class” by The Kennedy Center
*Photo of Luciano Pavarotti from nndb.com
*Photo of Placido Domingo from blog.beliefnet.com
*Photo of Renee Fleming from bbc.co.uk