New Zealand soprano Emily Mwila has been enjoying a wide and varied singing career. In 2016 she made her professional operatic debut in her hometown Wellington playing Zerlina in Eternity Opera’s production of Don Giovanni. She subsequently went on to perform the role of Susannah (Le Nozze di Figaro) with them in 2017.
In late 2017 Emily relocated to New York City where she completed her Master of Music at the Mannes College of Music in 2018 and then stayed on to do her Professional Studies Diploma in voice graduating in spring 2021, both under the tutelage of American tenor Bill Burden. With Mannes Opera she performed the role of Mae Jones in Street Scene and covered the role of Euridice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. It is at Mannes college also that her interest and love for baroque music began to flourish and she was soprano soloist with the Mannes Baroque Ensemble every semester of her time there. Emily was also selected to be part of the 4 woman vocal ensemble for Steve Reich’s ‘Tehillim’ which was due to be performed in collaboration with Mannes Orchestra under the baton of Alan Pierson in early 2020.
Emily has trained as a young artist at the International Vocal Arts Institute (2016), the New Zealand Opera School (2017), and SongFest LA (2018). In 2021 she also received her first film credit playing an opera singer in the recently released opera rom-com ‘Falling for Figaro’ which stars the celebrated British actress Joanna Lumley.
Her chorus work includes singing in New Zealand Opera’s performance of Carmen, and Days Bay Opera’s staged performance of Handel’s Theodora. Most recently she joined the chorus of The Metropolitan Opera in their Fall 2021 run of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. In 2022 she made her role and company debut singing ‘Evelyn’ in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Fire Shut Up In My Bones. In Fall 2022 she will sing 'Neighbour' and 'Soprano 1' in the ensemble of Anthony Davis’ X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X with both Detroit Opera and Omaha Opera.
I grew up in a world of cultural collision. With my parents hailing from countries quite literally on opposite sides of the globe - New Zealand and Zambia - I was constantly exposed to many different perspectives on life. My musical upbringing was consequently very eclectic - in my house you could be listening to Etta James in one moment, and Dolly Parton the next. The dancing rhythms woven into every aspect of Zambian life from births, to weddings, to funerals, the rich choral traditions of New Zealand, the raw beauty of the native Maori songs and the warm pacific island melodies that I grew up around are just some of the elements which formed the foundations of my musical understanding. My high school music educators led me to pursue classical singing, but they also encouraged me to continue singing jazz and musical theatre and gospel as I had always loved to do. Thus the theme of cultural collision carried over into my artistic career.
My performance stages have included theatres, convention centers, and stadiums, but also houses, art galleries, restaurants, farmhouses, and most notably the very streets of cities around the world. The collision of cultures was most stark during my time as a street singer. Opera is generally thought to be housed in grand venues so bringing it to a street corner in Berlin, or outside a shopping mall in Sydney was quite a jarring contrast. And yet, there was a magic that resulted from that contrast, moments that may never have been created in a conventional stage performance. One thing I especially loved was the diversity of my audience, people of all ages from all walks of life, some seasoned opera lovers, some hearing it for the first time. I found many friends and supporters at that time, including people who would go on to significantly contribute to the continued development of my voice. Without them, I would not be where I am today. It has been some years since I have performed regularly on the street, but the conviction I gained in the power of the human voice is invaluable to my career even today.
Moving to the United States to pursue my career once again placed me in a culture very different to my own, but I now see cultural collisions more like a marriage, in which seemingly opposing ideas can come together to form an even greater whole. I hope that my career will continue to be an exploration and even celebration of the differences which combine to form the beauty and complexity of life.
"The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit."