Home' The Wellingtonian : January 19th 2012 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, JANUARY 19, 2012
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Reaching people through song
Rebecca Thomson talks
to opera singer Ben
Makisi about Newtown,
karaoke and shaking
Ben Makisi: ''That's one of things with opera, you get to don these amazing costumes.''
Photo: REBECCA THOMSON
Have you always lived in Wel-
I was born and bred in Newtown.
It s a dynamic, diverse place.
It s always changing, always
evolving. It s a such an awesome
place to be now, not that it wasn t
back then. It s just when I go away
and come back, I notice the
What was your first public
When my brother was working at
a hotel, the South African group
Ipi Tombi was staying there. He
brought a few of the crew home
and decided I was going to sing a
few songs to them. I was about six
years old and there I was standing
up in front of these guys singing.
Hence the beginning of my
Where did the interest in
opera come from?
When I was at university. I learnt
about opera at college, but that s
more because it was part of the
curriculum. When I auditioned for
the performance course at Vic-
toria [University], that s when I
realised my passion for opera.
What do you like about it?
It s a different way of singing.
You re using your whole body. I m
wowed by the way there s no using
a microphone and the sheer
beauty of being able to produce
that sound naturally.
You have performed all over
the world, but keep coming
Various circumstances keep
preventing me from staying away
-- family commitments, a friend s
birthday or funeral. I ve always
honoured my parents by being
able to come back.
You're also a karaoke fan.
It s one of my whole family s
favourite pastimes. We ll get the
karaoke machine out and have a
sing. The funniest is when we go
out to a restaurant and there s
karaoke. My wife will say, Don t
do it , but I just have to get up
What is the best karaoke place
Club K in the Oaks. There s also a
really good place in Courtenay
Place where you can sing karaoke
and have dinner.
Do you have a favourite
Il Divo s version of Toni Braxton s
Unbreak My Heart. They sing it in
Spanish and that wows an audi-
Do you speak Spanish?
It comes up in opera, but also my
sister-in-law is part-Uruguayan,
part-Chilean and I try to converse
with her in Spanish. Sometimes
she ll catch me out speaking some
Italian phrase or something.
What other languages do you
Passable French, German, Italian.
They are fundamental languages
for opera and that s drummed into
coffee and that s all you really
need to know. I can speak Tongan
and Samoan, too.
And you enjoy rugby.
I love being at home with my feet
up watching rugby. During the
world cup it was amazing to see
the support that was given to
every country. The little countries
even, like Romania, were
Did you ever play?
I played a bit in my young days,
but when I got into singing
seriously, my teacher advised me
to stop. She was concerned about
my vocal chords, not so much
broken bones or anything like
What is you're favourite place
Toscano, Italy. You re among the
Italians, in their city, singing in
their language. When you re
someone from Newtown, it s really
quite wonderful, especially when
you hear them clap and shout,
Is there a particular role you
would like perform?
The opera I most look forward to
is Tosca, by Puccini. The main
character has a love for art and for
a particular woman. That speaks
to me. I love my art and the love
of my life, my wonderful wife.
You've mentored boys at your
former college, Rongotai.
What was that like?
I love to mentor the young people,
but I give them the straight story.
It s a lot of hard to work to become
a singer. You ve got to know about
technique and be solid with that.
That s how you can touch an audi-
ence. There s a lot of talent out
there. There are many wonderful
up-and-coming young singers.
Haven't you taken a job on a
An agent in London saw one of my
performances and inquired about
whether I d sing on a cruise boat.
It s an opportunity. I don t want to
become just the wedding singer,
just the cruise boat singer, just
the opera singer. I want to explore
things. It ll be an exciting new
adventure. I ll be going to Bali,
Phuket, Adelaide and Freemantle
on one cruise, then a second cruise
from Nagasaki to Hong Kong.
You performed at the World of
WearableArt Awards last year.
What was that like?
That was wow! I wish I could have
rolled up my costume and put in
my pocket to keep. That s one of
the things with opera, you get to
don these amazing costumes. I
wish they were part of my every-
Which opera singers do you
Malvina Major, Kiri Te Kanawa
and I m totally inspired by
Pavarotti. Jessye Norman is
another amazing one.
Did you met Pavarotti?
It was just a handshake. It s one
of those things: He knows my
name, but doesn t really know
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