Donald Munro

Donald Munro’s † Biography

Opera Pioneer
Arts Foundation Icon 2005
Donald Munro is regarded as the father of New Zealand Opera.

Donald's career began in 1938 when he first performed as a baritone in New Zealand. He then travelled to wartime London to study at the Royal College of Music, where he was awarded the prestigious Tagore Medal -awarded annually to the outstanding student of the year. He later travelled to Paris to study with the legendary baritone Pierre Bernac from 1946 to 1948.

Donald returned to New Zealand in 1951 and began teaching in Dunedin. A move to Wellington followed where he continued to teach, whilst performing many works including those of Douglas Lilburn.

Donald is celebrated for establishing New Zealand's first Opera Company in 1954. His primary goal was to "take opera to the people", ensuring that rural districts were visited as often as the city centres. This bold venture was kept afloat by Donald's ambition and drive - and sometimes his own pocket. Under Donald's management, the Opera Company was allowed a Maori cast in the production of Porgy and Bess. They were the first company in the world to have the Gershwin family relax its ruling, enabling the cast to be entirely African American. This opera was a huge success in New Zealand and helped establish the careers of many Maori singers.

As the Opera Company grew and prospered, Donald was able to accept opportunities such as a Government Bursary to study opera production and management at Glyndebourne. He was involved in the production of many significant New Zealand works including Ngaio Marsh's A Unicorn for Christmas with music by David Farquhar, performed for the Queen during the Royal Tour of New Zealand in 1963. In 1960, Donald was awarded an MBE for services to opera.

Donald Munro in Willunga,
South Australia, with Jill

When his involvement with the New Zealand Opera Company ceased in the mid-1960s, Donald accepted an invitation to lecture at the University of Adelaide, where he became Dean of Music from 1974 to 1978. During this time Donald was appointed to various government arts funding bodies in Australia.

Until 2010 Donald managed to visit New Zealand annually from his home in Australia and participated in the life of the Arts Foundation. Donald passed away shortly after his 99th birthday in 2012.