The Prince of the chorus line

Baritone Sitiveni Talei… “I’m always the friend, the uncle or the baddie.”

Baritone Sitiveni Talei… “I’m always the friend, the uncle or the baddie.”

IF you think your career is taking a while to get into full swing, spare a thought for rising baritone Sitiveni Talei.

He’s the imposing Fijian-born, ANU School of Music graduate who’s won a swag of singing awards, including the famed Marianne Mathy scholarship, named after June Bronhill’s teacher.

But he’s an opera singer, and that means it takes years before he’ll come into his maturity, and he’s only 31.

As well, when you’re a baritone, you pretty well never get the girl – “I’m always the friend, the uncle or the baddie,” he says.

But there’s good news. Talei will soon play the principal role of Prince Yamadori in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s next extravaganza, “Madame Butterfly”, starring Japanese soprano Hiromi Omura.

Yamadori, suitor to the tragic heroine Cio Cio San, is admittedly only a small part, but a prominent one. The Nagasaki prince, Talei explains, has other wives, but wants the ravishing “Butterfly” as his number one wife after the unthinking American sailor, Pinkerton, deserts her.

Yamadori offers her a way out, but she says “no”. It’s a tragedy, after all.

“My main role in the opera is to show her love of Pinkerton is overriding,” he says.

It’s a step up for the imposing Talei, who studied at St Francis Xavier High, Orana, Canberra Grammar and the School of Music.

He’s already been with the WA Opera chorus for seven years, occasionally getting top roles such as Ford in “Falstaff” and Zurga in “The Pearl Fishers”.

Then came the offer of a place in Opera Australia’s chorus in Sydney, and – as his ANU voice teacher Angela Giblin once said – “if any of you can get into the full-time chorus, you’ve succeeded in this industry”.

Yamadori is something of a break from the demanding work that can see him doing seven choruses a week.

“Imagine, some people do it every week for 40 years,” he says.

“Who knows? I might still get a major role… in the end, it’s up to the powers that be.”

Opera on Sydney Harbour, Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquarie’s Point, March 21-April 12, bookings to



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