“The Samoan tenor proved a revelation … stunning for his generosity of voice, top notes of apparently invincible power, and alluring timbre.“ That was the response of Forum Opéra when Pene Pati appeared in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux in early 2020.
Roméo’s exhilarating ‘Ah! Lève-toi soleil’ is one of the arias on Pene Pati’s debut album on Warner Classics. Its programme of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Gounod and Benjamin Godard matches favourite tenor showpieces with rarer gems: Rigoletto, Manon, and Guillaume Tell are there, but so are La battaglia de Legnano, Moïse et Pharaon, L’Étoile de Nord, Polyeucte and Jocelyn. Emmanuel Villaume conducts the Orchestre national Bordeaux Aquitaine.
It was in Bordeaux in 2019, and in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, that Pene Pati – who grew up in New Zealand – made his European debut. A singer of glowing lyricism, he establishes an immediate rapport with his audience and has risen swiftly up the world’s tenor ranks. The San Francisco Opera hosted his operatic debut in 2017, as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, and the Duke’s arias ‘Parmi veder le lagrime’ and ‘La donna è mobile’ both feature on this album. He is also a graduate of the Californian opera company’s Adler Program, one of the world’s most prestigious training schemes for young singers. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that: “Pati sings in a gleaming, sensuous stream of sound, with heroic accents in more athletic passages and a warm, tenderly inviting depth for moments of romantic intimacy.”
A laureate of several major singing competitions, including Plácido Domingo’s Operalia and the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Neue Stimmen, Pati has also performed in La traviata at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. The 2021/22 season brings a string of major debuts: the Paris Opéra, Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Staatsoper Berlin, Aix-en-Provence Festival and San Diego Opera. In October 2021, when he sang Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in Paris, Forum Opéra again sought superlatives: “It was enough to hear him sing ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, with its nuances, shadings and mezza voce distilled in his marvellous timbre … to understand that, just with this aria, the tenor had conquered Paris.” The plaintive and poetic ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ can be heard on this album beside a more darkly dramatic Donizetti scene, from Roberto Devereux.
“This album has been carefully curated to make the listener feel the varied intensities of life,” says Pene Pati. “I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had thus far and thankful for the challenges that have made me grow into the artist I am today. I am indebted to all those who believed in me and earnestly pushed me to take on the world ... With these thoughts in mind, I hope you enjoy listening to this album of a Pacific boy singing famous European arias. I’m excited for you to hear what the Pacific colour sounds like and what potential lies here. I hope this musical journey leaves you with warmth, tenderness, and the sincerity of storytelling. To me, this is the essence of opera and the reason why I sing.”