Arts preview: The rise and rise of Kiwi soprano Hayley Westenra

Kylie Knott

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 10:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 11:58pm

Hayley Westenra
City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong


New Zealand songstress Hayley Westenra knows a thing or two about winning over fans. And she knows even more about the business of music.

When she performed at the opening ceremony of the eighth World Games in Taiwan in July 2009, she teamed up with local artist Shin to sing the Teresa Teng classic, The Moon Represents My Heart, in Mandarin. The resulting duet captivated the 40,000-plus audience. Although she was nervous about stumbling over the words, Westenra glided through the performance, triggering a publicity cash machine most artists can only dream of.

In the following months, her album sales in Taiwan, the mainland, and other parts of Asia rocketed, and her solo show in Taipei sold out in a day. "I was a bit concerned about mispronouncing the words and offending people. But I performed the song, and people really enjoyed it, so I guess that inspired me to try a few more Mandarin songs," she says.

"As for the songs that I'm going to sing in Hong Kong - let's keep them a surprise."

The 26-year-old soprano has visited Hong Kong before, but this will be the first time she has performed here. She is playing two shows at City Hall with the City Chamber Orchestra.

"I've been to Hong Kong a few times, and I loved it from the moment I stepped off the plane: visiting the night markets and soaking up the hustle and bustle," she says. "It was one of my first major overseas trips and it made a big impression on me. I can't wait to hold a concert in Hong Kong."

Westenra's rise to the top was meteoric. While successful in New Zealand, she did not gain global recognition until she signed with Decca Records and recorded Pure, a mix of classical, light pop, and traditional Maori songs.

Pure topped the British classical charts in 2003, and has sold more than two million copies worldwide, making it the fastest-selling debut international classical album. Westenra has also worked with esteemed Italian composer Ennio Morricone.

It's been an amazing ride, one that started when Westenra was discovered at age six by her teacher. "She picked up on the fact that I could sing, and gave me a solo in an end-of-year play.

"It was called The Littlest Star and I was the Littlest Star. My parents got a huge shock when they came along with the other parents to see that I had the lead, and I was singing," she says.

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City Hall Concert Hall, November 30, 7.30pm, December 1, 3pm, HK$220-HK$500 Urbtix. Inquiries: 2864 2157