Ta"u Pupu"a always loved singing, yet a blossoming football career take it his life elsewhere. Now he"s back in the limelight as an opera tenor extraordinaire.

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Ta"u Pupu"a poses with his college voice teacher Evelyn Harris. He constantly makes it a allude to visit through her while he"s in Utah and also still asks for her critiques top top his performances. Noted by Ta"u Pupu"a

Drafted to the NFL

Pupu’a studied music in ~ Weber State University, yet he never graduated.

At 6-foot-5 and weighing 290 pounds, Pupu"a was able to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and quickly caught the eye of any type of coach that watched him as a protective lineman.

“I do have to say now, i was good,” the said.

But he still wasn’t all set for a phone speak to that come one Sunday morning in 1995.

Pupu’a explained the home he flourished up in as “humble.” There was no cable and also the household only had one car. He took his parents to church — the entirety family are Methodist — and drove back home, plan to to visit a later service. As soon as he arrived ago at home, among his brothers-in-law was wait to notify Pupu’a that he had been drafted by the NFL.

Pupu’a didn’t think him at first, however his brother-in-law assured him that the NFL to be going to speak to him.

Ta"u Pupu"a in ~ a Cleveland Browns practice. Offseason injuries prevented him from ever playing in an main NFL game. Detailed by Ta"u Pupu"a
About 20 minute later, the phone call rang. Pupu’a answer the phone and learned the coach bill Belichick picked him because that the Cleveland Browns.

“It was choose a dream that this taken place to me, and also I simply didn’t know what to do. I average I simply sat there,” Pupu’a said. “I don’t think I also went to church. Ns think I just sat there and also waited for the moment for me come go choose up mine parents and also bring them home.”

Being drafted right into the NFL permitted Pupu’a come afford things he never could before. The bought his parental a brand-new car, placed TVs and also cable in your house. Among his brothers stayed in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and six kids — Pupu’a placed them in a five-bedroom house with a big yard for the youngsters to run roughly in.

“I to be able to carry out a many things, help out mine sisters and brothers,” he said. “And now they’re doing great things since I to be able to present them a little piece of this American dream that ns was given.”

He relished in living the American dream — till he wasn’t.

During a practice in 1996 — just a couple of months right into his soccer career, prior to he also played in one official game — Pupu’a endured a serious injury that lugged his time v the Cleveland Browns to an end. He attempted to continue to play and other groups invited him to join their workouts, but continued to it is in plagued by injuries. Finally, he decided he"d had actually enough.

The $100 bill

Back house with his parents, Pupu’a spent a the majority of time thinking around what to execute next. What could he do to get his American dream back?

“Like the great Book says, you can’t serve 2 masters and also be an excellent so I had actually to provide one up," he defined of his decision to leave college for the NFL. "I had (given) up the singing and also went into football and played, and got injured and also left.”

So naturally, the next relocate for Pupu"a to be to offer the other understand he had initially turned away from: singing. Without discussing it with any type of of his family members members, Pupu’a decided to relocate to brand-new York City in 1999.

I’m going to brand-new York, similar to the means we left Tonga to pertained to Utah. Ns going right into the unknown, because that my parents and also my grandparents. – Ta’u Pupu’a

“It was a large shock,” Pupu’a laughed, remembering do the notice to his family.

“Nobody knew until he make the announcement,” his older brothers Tipi Pupu’a said.

His family members didn’t know what come expect, and neither walk Ta’u Pupu’a.

“But I thought to myself, girlfriend know, we come all the method from the kingdom of Tonga and we settled here in Salt Lake City, and we didn’t understand what Salt Lake City had actually in keep for us, girlfriend know? We had never experienced cold, we had never proficient snow,” Ta’u Pupu’a said. “So i said, ns going to brand-new York, similar to the means we left Tonga to involved Utah. Ns going into the unknown, for my parents and also my grandparents.”

The goodbye come his family members was emotional, especially for his grandmother, who was in tears as Ta’u Pupu’a kissed her goodbye. She pulled the end a $100 invoice to offer to him, a large sum the money because that her. She called Ta’u Pupu’a to take it. At very first he resisted, telling her the he had sufficient for his needs, yet she insisted. Ta’u Pupu’a recalled she saying, “I understand I don’t have much, however I desire you to take this, simply so you deserve to do something v it.”

Ta"u Pupu"a sits with his family after his father"s death. Listed by Ta"u Pupu"a Ta’u Pupu’a relented however still felt guilty for acquisition his grandmother’s money. He thought perhaps he would use it come buy her a Christmas gift, yet when Christmastime come near, that bought she a Christmas current with his very own money, maintaining her $100 bill.

“Can you think I still have her hundred dollars tucked away?” he said. “I still have her hundred bucks. I couldn’t invest it. Yet it has actually a definition now, the hundred dollars, it has actually a meaning.”

A fairy godmother

After 3 months in brand-new York, Ta’u Pupu’a stated he fell into a sort of depression. After farming up in Utah, where he felt civilization were friendlier, new York to be a vast change.

“I no understand new York, every little thing just relocated really fast,” the said. “It seems favor everyone has actually horse blinders on. … ns wasn’t used to that type of pace and that type of living.”

But Pupu’a knew the couldn’t provide up. For this reason he pressed on. That finally found a voice teacher and also worked through her for a couple of years.

“But just how do you come to be an opera singer? that’s the actual question,” the said.

Around 2003, after gift in brand-new York because that a few years, a friend educated him of one audition because that a small-scale opera production, Verdi’s "Rigoletto." It to be performed in a church with simply a piano for accompaniment. Pupu’a landing the starring function as Rigoletto — it was his very very first opera. That opera led to another opera, and to another, all on the same small scale — in a church, v a piano. Then, among Pupu’a’s performances captured the eye the a director who worked for the Regina Opera Company.

Although he now had more consistent work through the opera company, that still hadn’t quite accomplished his American dream. Then in 2008, he met the mrs who provided his job the push it needed.

Ta"u Pupu"a attends a concert in Pellicano, Italy, with Dame Kiri car Kanawa (front right) and other friends. Provided by Ta"u Pupu"a “I to be going come the city Opera to check out a dress rehearsal of one opera. Once I to be at the city Opera, I experienced a substantial poster external the bookstore that said Dame Kiri dare Kanawa would certainly be over there to sign autographs,” Pupu’a said.

He thought that he would certainly love to accomplish the famed Polynesian opera singer (Te Kanawa is a brand-new Zealander the Maori descent), therefore he created his name on a item of document for she to sign.

“She looked up due to the fact that she experienced my name and it obviously watch Polynesian,” Pupu’a said. Interested, dare Kanawa asked Pupu’a what that did. Pupu’a said he was standing tall and proud before telling her, “I am a tenor.”

Ta"u Pupu"a as Pollione in the opera "Norma." noted by Ta"u Pupu"a
She asked where he sang, if he to be going come school and also how his career was doing.

Pupu’a said he looked in ~ her, shrugged, and also replied, “It’s coming along.” What occurred next, he said, was surreal.

Te Kanawa asked, “Is anybody helping you?” when Pupu"a said he wasn"t receiving any kind of help, she asked, “Can I aid you?”

Pupu’a claimed he was standing there, shocked, not registering totally what she said. She recurring her question to Pupu’a, and also this time, he accepted.

Te Kanawa called over one of her bodyguards and asked that to offer Pupu’a she number and told Pupu’a to contact her.

Pupu’a didn’t go to the city Opera that day. Instead, he floated house on a cloud.

“I nothing know exactly how I obtained home,” that said.


Within six months of meeting, car Kanawa arranged for part friends of hers at the Juilliard School, including the head of the vocal department, to hear Pupu’a sing — there is no screening the herself.

“She’s never heard me song (at this point),” Pupu’a said. “I might have unable to do up there and sang and also sounded horrible.”

But he no sound horrible. In fact, the was one of three embraced into the opera regimen — top top a complete scholarship. As soon as he referred to as his dad come share the great news, his dad said, “Well it is nice,” and told Ta’u Pupu’a he to be glad Ta’u Pupu’a determined to get back into music. Then Ta’u Pupu’a dubbed his brothers Tipi, who reacted with an ext excitement, however cut your phone contact short.

“About 5 minutes later, my dad calls, and also … i mean, you might hear (his) joy and also tears, and also he said, ‘Congratulations! … her brother just dubbed me and also he told me what Juilliard is,’” Ta’u Pupu’a said.

Ta’u Pupu’a i graduated from Juilliard in 2011. Because then, his career has taken him everywhere the world to sing — including China, Germany and several U.S. States.

Ta"u Pupu"a"s father and also aunt aid him dress before his Juilliard graduation. Provided by Ta"u Pupu"a

Football and also opera

Ta’u Pupu’a’s college voice teacher Evelyn Harris no surprised by his success with opera.

“I kind of thought … that’s where he would finally end up,” claimed Harris, who has been to teach voice lessons due to the fact that 1957. “He yes, really loved music and also really loved to sing opera.”

She’s the just one who"s no surprised. Pupu’a thought for certain that his career would be football. Yet even if gift in the NFL no pan the end — Pupu’a trust football all set him to it is in an opera singer.

“I think the the tough work in football set up every this tough work in the opera field. You need to go to the gym, girlfriend just need to practice all the time. And also that has trickled under to the method I occupational in opera,” that said.

I feel prefer he could hold the high notes because that days — it’s favor he deserve to hold them forever. – Kirsten Chambers

Pupu’a defined that, lot like he had actually to watch movies of himself practicing soccer to know what to enhance upon, he spends time ~ above YouTube watching various other opera singers to observe what castle do and how they execute it, in addition to learning and practicing v his vocal coaches.

Kirsten Chambers, a soprano who has operated with Pupu’a before, agrees the his football background, his athleticism and also discipline give him an edge.

Ta"u Pupu"a, center, as Calaf in "Turandot," his favourite opera. Provided by Ta"u Pupu"a
“I think so lot of what made that a good athlete also made that a an excellent opera singer. The drive, the focus, the stamina, the discipline. It’s precisely the exact same whether you a champion artist or athlete,” Chambers said. “He has stamina because that days. … i feel favor he can hold the high notes because that days — it’s like he have the right to hold them forever.”

Chambers included that it seems choose Pupu’a is constantly practicing and also studying come improve.

“He’s just operated constantly, gaining himself as much as speed,” Chambers said. “He’s always coaching. … Ta’u is just constantly working.”

For Pupu’a, that work-related is important since he wants to take it the civilization who pay to watch him do on a journey. That the same kind that excitement, the said, and both football players and singers are performers.

“One has a helmet and shoulder pads and also the various other one has actually wigs and also makeup and also costumes,” Pupu’a said. “When i sing mine aria, it’s like you’re the quarterback and also you’re throwing a touchdown pass, specifically when you … pond every note and also every an interpretation and every component of the character, and you was standing there ~ you end up that aria and you heard the audience roar through bravos and applause and also everything. It’s favor you simply threw a touchdown pass.”

Giving back

Ta"u Pupu"a performs with a Tongan choir in mountain Francisco. Provided by Ta"u Pupu"a now that he"s succeeded as a Tongan opera singer, Pupu"a is trying to give back — not only by sharing the gift that his voice through audiences, but by also sharing his culture with audiences and inspiring Tongan communities. In solo performances, Pupu"a constantly ends v a Tongan song, and when he access time his residence in Salt Lake City, he constantly gives a free concert.

Pupu"a stated he wishes to inspire brand-new generations that Polynesians in specific to pursue classical arts.

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"The majority of (Polynesians) have beautiful voices, and they love come sing," Pupu"a said. "I’ve viewed a Polynesian person on "American Idol," and also that renders me happy, it renders my love sing, yet in the timeless side there’s no a lot."

It"s been an amazing journey to get where that is, yet Pupu"a express no regrets.