Dame Malvina Major 1943-

Dame Malvina Lorraine Major, New Zealand operatic soprano and international opera star, was born in Hamilton on 28 January 1943. She was the seventh of eight children in a musical family. This page has brief biographical information and links to further resources.

Early life

She is said to have made her debut at the age of three in Hamilton’s Theatre Royal when she escaped her parents in order to join her siblings who were already performing on stage. She studied music at Ngaruawahia Convent and then with Dame Sister Mary Leo at St Mary’s Music School in Auckland from 1960-65, going on to study at the London Opera Centre.


Her first professional success was winning the Mobil Song Quest in 1963 followed by the 1964 Melbourne Sun Aria contest. Her professional debuts were at the Campden Town Festival and then the Salzburg Festival in 1968, where she was described as a brilliant discovery. Unusually she then put her career on hold, returning to New Zealand to raise a family.

However, by 1975 she had begun to resume her career, singing with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Wellington’s New Opera Company. Her comeback was halted temporarily by ill health, but by 1986 she was singing again internationally and she went on to master 30 opera roles and make numerous recordings. She lists Lucia of Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor as her favourite role.

During her international career she made frequent returns to New Zealand and eventually she was based here, first as Adjunct Professor of the Performing Arts at the University of Waikato and more recently where she is a lecturer in voice at the University of Canterbury.

In 1992 she founded the Dame Malvina Foundation to support the training of young New Zealand artists.

In January 2012 she announced her intention to return to a role as a teacher and ambassador at the University of Waikato in February.


Dame Malvina is patron of numerous societies and her entry in 2001 New Zealand Who’s Who Aotearoa mentions too many awards to list. These culminate in the DBE in 1991, followed by Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008, which was changed to the Grande Dame of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2009. She also holds honorary doctorates from Waikato and Massey Universities, Trinity College London and the Royal Schools of London.

More information

Further biographical information

Browse the resources in our libraries