Our Judges & Conductors


Nicole Youl

New Zealand Aria – Open Section

With a Diploma of Arts in Music from the Victorian College of the Arts where she studied singing with Dame Joan Hammond, Nicole Youl then went on to win the Herald-Sun Aria in 1991 after which she travelled to London for further study. A winner of many singing competitions and recipient of many scholarships, she was a finalist in the 1994 Placido Domingo World Operalia competition in Mexico City and won the Metropolitan Opera Awards in 1995, the Rome Opera Award in 1996 and the Australian Singing Competition’s Opera Awards in 2002.

Nicole made her mark as a soprano in the works of Puccini and Verdi– she has performed the title role in Madama Butterfly (Opera Australia), Mimi in La bohème (Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, Paiz Festival in Guatemala), title role in Tosca (Opera Australia, Victorian State Opera), Liu in Turandot (OA), Giorgetta in Il Tabarro, the title role in Suor Angelica and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi (OA), Leonora in Il Trovatore (West Australian Opera, Opera Australia) and Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera (OA). Other roles include Elsa in Lohengrin (OA), Fidelio (OA), Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana (WAO), Micaela in Carmen (OA, OQ and WAO), Diane in Iphigenie en Tauride (OA), Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni (VSO), First Lady in The Magic Flute (OA) and Die Vertraute and Die Vierte Maid in Elektra (Teatro dell’ opera di Roma).

On the concert platform, Nicole has performed as soprano soloist with the major Australian orchestras in Mahler’s Symphony No.2 and No.8, Verdi’s Requiem, Rachmaninov’s The Bells, Bruckner’s Te Deum and Strauss’ Four Last Songs and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. She sang Wellgunde in Götterdämmerung and Tove in Gurrelieder for the Perth Festival and Ortlinde in Die Walküre for the Sydney Symphony.

Nicole has recently made the move back to mezzo soprano, where she started when a student, and has sung the mezzo solos in Beethoven 9 and The Trillion Souls (Hamilton) with QSO, ‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’ in concert with SSO, and the role of Grimgerde in Die Walkure with OA. 

A mentor with The Australian Singing Competition’s Mentor Program, Nicole has recently relocated to Perth where she is delighted to have taken up a position as classical voice teacher at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).


Michael Lewis

New Zealand Aria – Open Section

Michael Lewis, one of Australia’s most respected singers, is highly regarded for his command of both operatic and concert repertoire. After winning the Metropolitan Opera Competition in 1973 and an Arts Council Scholarship, Michael left Adelaide for Europe, marking the beginning of a successful international career. His major debut at the Wexford Festival in 1976 was followed by performances at opera houses in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Leipzig, Amsterdam, Venice, San Diego, Pittsburgh, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera, Opera North, Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Opera, Mexico and New Zealand.  At home in Australia he has performed 35 major roles with Opera Australia, as well as regular appearances with the state companies in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Michael has performed a wide range of roles, from Mozart to Wagner to 21st century compositions, and he has a strong association with the works of Verdi, having performed in 12 of the Italian master’s operas. Rigoletto has been a signature role, Michael having performed it at, amongst others, La Fenice Venice; in the famous Jonathan Miller mafia-style production in London; in Elijah Moshinsky’s Opera Australia production; in the Parks Concert performance in Sydney, in which Dame Joan Sutherland made her farewell appearance in the role of Gilda; and in an earlier John Copley production, for which he won a Green Room Award.

Other career highlights include: soloist with Rudolf Nureyev at the London Coliseum in Bejart’s ballet to Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer; his first Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for Opera Australia; and the world premiere creations of Jeronimus Cornelisz in Batavia by Richard Mills, The Major in Madeline Lee by John Haddock and a new venture which saw him appear at Belvoir St Theatre in a Sisters Grimm realisation of La Traviata

On the concert platform, Michael has appeared in solo recital, and sung with numerous orchestras around the world, and all of Australia’s symphony orchestras, with countless conductors of world renown. His repertoire encompasses all the major baritone works, in particular Carmina Burana, A War Requiem, Belshazzar’s Feast, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Elijah, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen and 8th Symphony; The Dream of Gerontius, Messiah, Requiem (Fauré), The Wound Dresser (Adams), and Songs and Dances of Death (Mussorgsky).

Michael Lewis can be seen on DVD in Opera Australia recordings of Die Fledermaus with Dame Joan Sutherland, and the 50th Anniversary Gala. His CD, Schubert: Lieder Orchestrations, features arrangements by Brahms, Reger, Offenbach, Liszt and Mottl. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2008.

A highly regarded singing teacher, mentor and coach, Michael has recently taken up the post of voice teacher at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) and is a mentor with The Australian Singing Competition’s Mentor Program.


Anna Pierard, Soprano

New Zealand Aria Under 21

Raised in Hawkes Bay, music was always the focus for Anna, and she was a member of the NZ Secondary Students Choir and Orchestra, National Youth Choir and Orchestra, as a violist and singer.

She gained her Dip.Perf.Art (Voice) at EIT and following that, travelled to London, to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to take up a scholarship and study singing. There, whilst studying for her Masters, she met her husband Jose Aparicio, a flautist and conductor.  Both consequently moved to Amsterdam where Anna studied opera at the Royal Conservatoire.

Following her graduation, she performed as a soloist at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Palau de la Musica (Valencia), Teatro Castellar (Castellon, Spain), La Monnaie (Royal Opera House, Belgium), Opera du Rhin (Strasbourg), amongst others.  In 2009, she returned to NZ and since, has performed frequently with NZ Opera, the NZ Symphony Orchestra, APO, CPO and the ACS, as well as performing locally with the Napier Civic Choir.

In 2014, together with long-time friend Sarah Walmsley, Anna founded Festival Opera – Opera with a conscience, and Project Prima Volta, the music programme dedicated to draw teenagers from diverse backgrounds together, to help them find common ground through music preparation and performance. 5 years on, and the vision is as strong as ever, and the programme growing in profile.

Basing the programme and opera company in Hawke’s Bay, enables Anna and her team, to offer a world class opportunity to the wealth of young local talent and excite their audiences into supporting their achievements, both on and offstage.

Anna is also a Trustee on the Dame Malvina Major Foundation, which reinforces her commitment to developing young artists ‘from grassroots to excellence’.


Catherine Pierard, Mezzo-soprano

New Zealand Aria Under 21

CATHERINE PIERARD has pursued an international career as an established concert and recording artist. A specialist in both early and contemporary vocal music she has been a  frequent soprano soloist at the Proms, the South Bank, and major British and European Festivals, 

Catherine worked with the Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Opera and English Touring Opera in the roles of Fiordiligi and Donna Elvira. Other roles include Ariadne in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Queen Elizabeth in Britten’s Gloriana, Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Stravinski’s Oedipus Rex, Berlioz’ Faust and Beatrice et Benedict, Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen, Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Handel’s Apollo and Daphne, Handel’s Julius Cesare, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Caccini’s Euridice, Gluck’s Orfeo, Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride, Handel’s Alceste, Britten’s Rape of Lucretia and Monteverdi’s Poppea.

Commercial discs to date are the critically acclaimed Herbert Howells’ songs (Chandos) with Julius Drake; Monteverdi arias (Hyperion); Monteverdi’s Poppea with Hickox (Virgin Classics); Thomas Arne’s Alfred (BBC Music); Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Norrington (EMI); Britten’s Rape of Lucretia with Hickox (Chandos); award-winning Purcell’s Dioclesian – The Masque and Dioclesian Acts I-IV with Hickox and the Collegium Musicum 90 (Chandos); and Purcell’s The Fairy Queen with Norrington and the London Classical Players (EMI).

She has also recorded regularly for BBC Radio 3, adjudicated national exams and competitions both in the UK and NZ, and is much in demand as a coach for chamber music and young singers.


Kararaina Walker

Maori Song Classes

He uri au no nga iwi o Te Whānua-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Porou me Te Whakatōhea.

Kararaina Walker is a soprano singer of Māori, Spanish, French, English, Scottish and Irish descent, who graduated as a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar with a Bachelor of Music with Honours from The University of Waikato, Hamilton. She was runner up at The University of Waikato Aria competition in 2010 and in 2016 returned to direct The University of Waikato’s Conservatorium of Music students from Dame Malvina Major’s Opera Studies course in Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by Mozart. 

Sharing the journey of young aspiring artists during 11 years on the teaching staff of the New Zealand Opera School has been a joy for Kararaina as she helps to enhance their talents and overcome challenges. As the Director for this year’s 2019 New Zealand Opera School’s 25th anniversary concert, Kararaina ensured that there was a strong focus on showcasing the individual talents of each emerging artist. Her knowledge, experiences and skills with young talent is utilises when tutoring her small rural primary school choir, who placed silver overall and won the test piece during their first time entering the Kids Sing last year(2018). 

Her roles in various theatre genre over the years as a performer, vocal and stage craft tutor and director/choreographer, guided her performances in: the world premieres of Garth Farr’s The Bone Feeder, 2017 Auckland Arts Festival;  her role as Princess Te Puea in Flowing Water by Witi Ihimaera, Tom Roa and Janet Jennings, 2018 Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival; as well as Opera in the Pa 2019, Rotorua preforming alongside Sol3 Mio, Joel Amosa and Local Artist Elisha Hulton, celebrating Maori and Pacific Island Music.

Master of Ceremonies

Joe Gilfillan

Master of Ceremonies, New Zealand Aria Finals Night

I have what Lesley Garrett calls “a spine that loves to tingle”.  It’s to do with the rich variety of music in my life for as long as I can remember. That began with lullabies, then singalongs in the car, as it likely does for most people.  Many in our whanau played our and their pianos brilliantly. An aunt had played piano for silent movies, and the magnificent Wurlitzer in the Civic Theatre.  We had piles of sheet music, books like Francis and Day, and war songs among our waiata. My big sister was an early adopter of transistor radios, so hit parades joined the mix.  Mum and Dad graduated from a wind-up gramophone  to a stereo radiogram and joined the World Record Club. The 1812 ‘with real cannon’ is my earliest classical memory. And I offered no protest at all whenever Mum suggested we go hear Dame Malvina or Dame Kiri.


Being engaged with an unusually wide range of music landed me my first broadcasting job, in Hamilton. New Zealanders are highly regarded in the global radio industry, and that helped me through the door at the BBC in London. Crossing live to the Royal Albert Hall was quite a thrill for a young chap from Katikati.  Settling back in Auckland in 1980, by chance the year the Auckland Philharmonia began, I soon acquired a habit of regular evenings in the Town Hall.

As what’s now known as a gig worker, organising talking book and magazine production at The Blind Foundation is part of my portfolio, as is work in the NZME Newsroom presenting bulletins on networks including News Talk ZB, Hauraki, Coast and Rhema.  And I still spend regular evenings in the Town Hall ‘loving the Phil’ working in the Auckland Live Front of House team.


We’re in for a magical night as these outstanding young artists share their choices from the more than 170 arias in the Auckland Philharmonia’s library. Your spine – and mine – are about to tingle.



Conductor, New Zealand Aria Finals Night

Giordano Bellincampi is the Music Director of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Chief Conductor of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. Born in Italy and moving to Copenhagen at a young age, he began his career as a trombonist with the Royal Danish Orchestra before making his professional conducting debut in 1994. Previously, he was the Principal Conductor of I Pomeriggi Musicali, Milan, General Music Director of the Duisburg Philharmonic from 2012-2017, General Music Director of the Danish National Opera, Aarhus from 2005-2013, Music Director of the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra from 2000-2006 and, between 1997-2000 he was Chief Conductor of the Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen, the leading contemporary ensemble in Denmark.

With an enormous repertoire embracing classical, romantic and contemporary music, he is particularly celebrated for his prowess in the Central European, Italian and Scandinavian symphonic traditions, and for his interpretations of significant choral and vocal works. In 2015, he focused on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Carl Nielsen, performing a wide selection of his works both in Denmark and abroad.

Highlights of recent seasons have included concert performances of Verdi’s Otello and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut with the Auckland Philharmonia, and with the Duisburg Philharmonic gala performances of Wagner’s operatic and orchestral music to mark the re-opening of the orchestra’s home in Duisburg’s Mercatorhalle. He also had a highly acclaimed visit to Amsterdam’s legendary Concertgebouw Hall, with repertoire by Nielsen, Sibelius and Beethoven.

In the 17/18 season, he brings major repertoire to Auckland and Kristiansand, including a concert performance of Aida in Auckland and staged performances of La Traviata with the Kristiansand Opera. He returns to the Athelas Sinfonietta and I Pommerigi Musicali Milan, and conducts four programmes with the Toledo Symphony.

As Associate Professor at the Royal Danish Academy Giordano Bellincampi is dedicated to the work of educating future generations of orchestra musicians and conductors. He also regularly gives masterclasses and serves as a jury member for a number of international conducting competitions. In 2010, he was made a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, an award bestowed by the Danish Royal Family for services to Danish culture, and he also holds the title of ‘Cavaliere’ from the President of Italy for his international promotion of Italian music.