Bass-baritone Jonathan Fa'afetai Lemalu is touted as the most significant singer to come from New Zealand since Kiri Te Kanawa. Born to Samoan parents, he began singing as a boy chorister at age nine, and studied both music and law at the University of Otago, from which he graduated in 1999. The previous year he had won the Mobil Song Quest and made his professional opera debut as Colline in La bohème at what was then called the National Opera of Wellington (now NBR New Zealand Opera). He focused more strongly on music after receiving his law degree, studying under Vera Rozsa at London's Royal College of Music from 1999 to 2002, and coming away with the college's gold medal. It was during this period that he began appearing as a song recitalist around London and environs, as well as in small-time opera productions that nevertheless gathered critical notice; he was praised for his charismatic stage presence and his rich, penetrating voice. By 2005 he was giving recitals throughout Europe, and singing the role of Masetto in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera and Jack Wallace in Puccini's La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden. His debut recording for EMI in 2001 was well praised; EMI signed him to an exclusive contract and followed up with a more highly publicized recital of opera arias in early 2005.