By Mabel Muller - email@example.com
More Pasifika opera singers are shining on the international stage and young Tongan tenor Manase Latu is honoured to be one of them.
The 22-year-old won first place out of ten finalists at the New Zealand Aria held in Rotorua at the weekend, one of Australasia's most prestigious singing competitions.
Latu's rendition of Una Furtiva Lagrima from Italian opera L'elisir d'amore, won him the award prize of $20,000 from the Dame Malvina Major Foundation.
He says he's still overwhelmed and honoured to be representing Pasifika on the opera stage.
"It's sort of starting to sink in now but when my name was called out as first place I sort of froze and I didn't expect this in a million years."
"It's really exciting because across the Pacific everyone grows up with music being a part of who they are... they hear it at church, at home, it's part of the culture and it's sort of embedded in our DNA."
Latu's father hails from Kolomotu'a, Tongatapu and mother from Leimatu'a, Vava'u.
His love for opera began in high school "accidentally" when his choir master at Saint Kentigern College made him audition.
"I was walking around during lunch time and the choir master just came and grabbed me by the ear and said, 'You look like you can sing,' and then I sung for him and he said, 'Yeah, you're in the choir.'"
"As I got into it I started to fall in love with the music and the beauty of it. I got into university and I started getting into opera and now I'm just fully in love with opera and not looking back now."
Latu graduated with a Bachelor of Music with Honours at the University of Auckland last year.
He is a member of a classical music band called The Shades, with members Ipu Laga'aia, Taka Vuni and fellow New Zealand Aria finalist Samson Setu.
Latu now plans on using his prize money to further his classical music studies overseas.
He hopes to continue building the Pacific opera legacy, that so many others have contributed to, for future Pasifika stars.
"Our job now is to do even more to encourage those who come after us to strive for excellence and greatness in the field of opera."