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Established with a vision to achieve wellbeing through music, Project Prima Volta uses opera as a tool to transform young lives.

Finding Voices Shaping Futures – Project Prima Volta

Project Prima Volta (PPV) is a Hawke’s Bay singing initiative that uses opera as a tool to transform young lives.


In 2013, The Prima Volta Charitable Trust was established with a vision of achieving wellbeing through singing - combining high-quality music-making with powerful social action. The Trust’s central focus has been the nurturing of talent through its weekly singing programme PPV which uses the unique power of opera as a tool to engage, empower and educate young people. 

Project Prima Volta takes its name from the Italian prima volta, meaning 'first time' - recognising that teenagers routinely navigate new experiences. In many cases, these ‘firsts’ can be negative encounters tied to issues like social disconnect, academic pressure and obstacles with mental health. Co-Founders Anna Pierard and Sarah Walmsley developed PPV with the strong desire to create positive 'first times’ for rangatahi.

Every year, 30 Hawke’s Bay teens from diverse backgrounds undergo intensive singing training with extended learning opportunities in stage performance, music theory and backstage production. The programme offers a supportive, cost free environment where young people are encouraged to find their own voice for the betterment of themselves and others. For many students who take part in Project Prima Volta, the experience shifts their life-course in a dramatic way, as they discover a serious talent and imagine new levels of success.

PPV helps young people develop the confidence, resilience and motivation they need to take that talent in whatever direction they choose. Each year, several students go on to study voice in Tertiary institutions as a direct result of their training in PPV, and these graduates of PPV are welcomed to take part as guest artists in the annual programme. Whether or not they choose to pursue a career in singing, the PPV experience continues to resonate with all these young participants. 

“Thanks to PPV, there has been no shortage of new people to meet and new challenges to face… I have had so many opportunities which I never thought I would ever deserve to see.” – PPV student

“I have learnt to step up and to believe in my abilities and to push aside criticism to make things happen, which I don’t think I would have been able to do without PPV.” – PPV student

“PPV has helped me develop a few key attributes that have played very important roles in my life. My confidence is the one that holds the most importance. As a member of PPV, having constant affirmation that most tasks I put my mind to could be accomplished with excellence has had a major butterfly effect when discovering new abilities of my own.” – LJ Crichton, PPV Graduate (member from 2013-2017) and NZSO – PPV Collaboration Guest Soloist  

Project Prima Volta has a long-standing partnership with sister organisation and production company Festival Opera, which stages an opera season in conjunction with the Napier Art Deco Festival every February. Over the past eight years, PPV students have contributed to the creation and delivery of seven fully staged operas, presenting classics like Puccini’s La Boheme and Madame Butterfly, Verdi’s La Traviata and Bizet’s Carmen. This unique relationship with Festival Opera allows PPV students to test their skills alongside singers of international calibre, gaining insight into the profession through mentorship from the artists.

Outside of the opera, the students participate in a variety of regional festivals and events including the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, F.A.W.C, Botanic Beats and community concert series with local performance entities such as the Napier Civic Choir and Hawke’s Bay Orchestra.

Despite its grassroots origin, PPV continues to draw attention nationally, landing multiple television appearances with Lotto NZ and interview features on TVNZ’s shows Sunday and Seven Sharp. The programme’s track record of social and artistic impact has also captured the attention of celebrated musicians such as Dave Dobbyn, Julia Deans (Fur Patrol), Pene Pati and Moses Mackay (SOL3 MIO), several of whom continue to support and mentor students in the programme.

Why opera?

At first glance, a traditional western art form may seem irrelevant to young people. However, creating opera is about learning how to engage an audience, anticipate challenges, take risks, be disciplined, own mistakes, follow direction, take the lead, be a supportive colleague and respect team values. So many important life skills are developed in this ‘high-stakes’ exercise, both on and off the stage.

The drivers behind PPV understand that by engaging young people in high-stakes creative contexts, students are inspired to aim far beyond what they thought was possible. Students don’t just hone their artistic skills; they also develop grit and an ambition to succeed. High expectations are met when supported by targeted guidance from mentors and professionals who demand excellence of themselves and of the students they inspire. The result? Shared success for all who take the stage. 

The transformation in PPV students' attitude to learning, the understanding of their value and the strong social cohesion that is formed demonstrates that working towards and performing in a fully staged opera is a powerful tool for change at this critical stage of life.

NZSO - PPV Collaboration

The Covid-19 lockdown in early 2020 meant serious uncertainty about the viability of a summer opera production, and the hard decision was made to defer the Trust’s annual offering until February 2022. The absence of the summer opera created a glaring gap in the PPV programme for the first time since 2014. Fortunately, collaborating with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for this recital programme of musical favourites provides PPV students and graduates an exceptional opportunity to engage with the country's premiere music ensemble.

Find out more about Project Prima Volta here