Born in Southland, New Zealand, Deborah (Te Ātihaunui-ā-Papārangi, Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki and Ngāti Rua (Te Whakatōhea) has performed in operas, musical theatre, contemporary Māori music, arts festivals, proms, concerts, recitals, self-accompanied guitar and voice recitals, and special events throughout New Zealand and Australia, as well as in the UK, Asia Pacific Region, and South Africa.
Deborah was fortunate to study voice with the late Beatrice Webster, who was a pupil of Lucie Manèn. After studying with Mrs. Webster, Deborah studied for a year with the Young Artists Program of Opera Australia in 1994. Twelve years later, Deborah refreshed her voice with a Master of Music in 2006 at the University of Otago under the supervision of Ms. Cunningham (also a pupil of Mrs. Webster) and Professor Terence Dennis.
Deborah’s traditional operatic and musical theatre roles include Lily in The Secret Garden (Ascot Group New Zealand Tour), Pamina in The Magic Flute (Opera Australia and Wellington Opera), Mimi in La Boheme (New Zealand Opera), Papagena (OZ Opera tour of NSW, VIC, TAS, WA, and NT) Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus (Whanganui Opera), Sophie in Massenet’s Werther (Beijing International Arts Festival), Adalgisa in Norma (Canterbury Opera), Nannetta in Falstaff (New Zealand Opera), Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro (Canterbury Opera), Leila in The Pearl Fishers (New Zealand Opera), Marguerite in Faust (Hong Kong) and Carmen (University of Otago Alumni Opera).
“There were no redeeming features about a creature like Carmen apart from the accolades that Deborah Wai Kapohe should take for portraying the role in such a fearful fashion” Opera-Opera,2006.
Deborah’s Premiere Opera performances include Outrageous Fortune by New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead; Wide Sargasso Sea and Gauguin for Chamber Made, Melbourne, Australia; Grandma’s Shoes, a joint production between Opera Australia and Theatre of Image in Sydney, Jan 2000, Matthew Suttor’s Opera Trial of the Cannibal Dog at the 2008 New Zealand International Arts Festival and the role of Te Rai in NBR New Zealand Opera’s production of Hōhepa at the 2012 New Zealand International Arts Festival.
“Deborah Wai Kapohe gave the outstanding performance of the evening, giving point to every entry and action she had” Review of Trial of the Cannibal Dog, New Zealand Listener, 2008.
“Deborah Wai Kapohe as Te Rai is simply luminous” Review of Hōhepa, Michael Gilchrist – TheatreView, 2012.
Special events include singing for The Duke of Edinburgh World Fellows at St James Palace, Cathcart Spring proms at the Royal Albert Hall, the Sydney and Beijing Olympic Arts Festivals (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra), Anthems for the All Blacks and the Silver Ferns in New Zealand and Australia and for Royalty at Huka Lodge.
As a Classical Singer, Deborah’s discography includes recordings with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Pianist David Harper, Elena (Shanghai International Arts Festival), and STRIKE. However, she has also written four albums of singer-songwriter material which exploit her interest in contemporary music.
In 2010 Deborah graduated with a Bachelor of Laws with Honours at the University of Sydney Law School in Sydney, Australia. Meanwhile, she continued her singing by performing in Beijing with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and as part of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cultural Diplomacy International Programme in Beijing and Hangzhou, in 2008, as well as events in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and concert work with the Southern Sinfonia, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
From 2012 until 2018, Deborah returned to her ancestral home of Whanganui to work as the Arts Adviser for the Whanganui District Council. During this time, she developed her arts management skills for events, funding and facilitating multi-discipline cross collaboration as well as performing with the New Zealand Opera School, concert and event work, and developing her self-accompanied recitals through the study and use of historic guitars.
In 2019, Deborah completed the New Zealand Legal Practice Examination and the Legal Professional Studies Certificate. In 2021, she was admitted to the Bar.
During the pandemic, Deborah returned to studying singing, focusing on developing her skills in the Old Italian Method. This re-focusing has had a profound effect on her singing and philosophy for her work as an emerging teacher; she became a member of both NEWZATS and IRMTNZ.
Engagements in 2022 as a soloist included Christchurch City Choir, Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2022, Aotearoa New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, Auckland Arts Festival, Orchestra Wellington, the New Zealand National Anthem at an All Black Test, and performing Gareth Farr’s ‘Ngā Tai Hurihuri’ with Percussion Group ‘Pandemonium’
In 2022, Deborah also completed her Post Graduate Diploma of Creative Practice degree at ARA Institute of Canterbury in exploring what can be learned about the tikanga of songwriting with mātauranga Māori through the use of Tāonga Pūoro (Traditional Māori instruments). In order to undertake this, Deborah commissioned Taonga Pūoro and is now including the playing of these intruments in her performances.
Deborah lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand where she is a performer and singing teacher; she performs and teaches the full range of vocal techniques suitable for both classical and contemporary singing. Engagements in 2023 include performing Rutter’s Magnificat and Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music with the Christchurch City Choir and performing self-accompanied recitals, transversing a broad range of vocal styles, with renowned Jazz Vocalist, Naomi Ferguson.