Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Opera offers a range of innovative shows for 2022

Carousel. The original Braodway cast

NZ Opera

2022 Season

John Daly-Peoples

Next year’s NZ Opera season seems designed to cater for the full range of opera lovers. It opens with one of the great musicals and closes with one of the great operas. In between there are several New Zealand works drawing on ancient and recent history

The first work on the programme and only being performed in Auckland will be a concert version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel which was named Time magazine’s best musical of the 20th Century saying  that it set the standards for the 20th century musical and features their most beautiful score and the most skilful and affecting example of musical storytelling.

In a first for opera in New Zealand it will be performed on a stage moored in the water at Wynyard Wharf.

The story tells of carnival barker Billy Bigelow and mill worker Julie Jordan who fall in love. After their marriage ends things go downhill driving Billy to commit crimes and he falls in with con-man Jigger Craigin. He gets caught in the midst of an armed robbery and takes his own life. Billy is allowed to return to earth for one day 15 years later where he encounters Louise, the lonely daughter he never knew.

Richard Rodgers said the show was his favourite of all their musicals, “Oscar never wrote more meaningful or more moving lyrics, and to me, my score is more satisfying that any I’ve ever written.”  The work has some notable songs including “If I Loved You“, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, This Was a Real Nice Clambake” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone“..

The production will be directed by Jacqueline Coats and conducted by Paul Christ with costumes designed by Elizbeth Whiting. The cast will include Christian Thurston as Billy, Joanna Foote as  Julia Jordan and Bridget Costello as Carrie Pipperidge.

NZ Opera’s 2010 production of Macbeth. Antonia Cifrone as Lady Macbeth Photo credit Bill Cooper

The great traditional opera which closes the season will be Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth” which features a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play by William Shakespeare.

There are any number of politicians who could have written the script for Verdi’s Macbeth. The combination of personal power struggles, moral debate and the small events from our past coming back to haunt one are all too familiar political themes. They are the major themes of the opera in which a man and his wife, impelled by prophesies that predict he will have greatness thrust upon him decides to take that greatness by force.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are driven by personal greed for power and status. They are inspired by witches or fates and they understand that such prophesies do not come from Heaven but rather the darker reaches of the next world.

In accepting what has been prophesied they give over their lives to the Fates. They allow themselves to commit evil deeds, opting out of the moral issues by accepting it that was happens has been foretold.

Lady Macbeth is more dominant than in the original Shakespeare play. Of all the dictators wives she comes close to a combination of Eva Person and Madame Mao, a mixture of the concerned, hectoring and malevolent wife.

While Verdi’s music is not the most memorable of his works, the opera sweeps along with fast paced action and vigorous music which provides an emotional framework for the gruelling and gruesome tale of murder and mayhem.

This new production by Netia Jones, conducted by Christopher Franklin, features Phillip Rhodes and Amanda Echalaz as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth along with  Wade Kernot, Jared Holt, Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono, Morag Atchison and the New Zealand Opera Chorus.

The Unruly Tourist

Breaking all the stereotype about opera will be the comedy “The Unruly Tourists”.  Written by the award-winning duo of Livi Reihana and Amanda Kennedy (The Fan Brigade) and composed by Luke Di Somma. It  will revisit the summer of 2019 when a group of English  tourists became the stuff of legends, wreaking havoc around the country.

“Just a great story, a great yarn with larger-than-life characters, and a New Zealand public who responded in a way that only New Zealand responds,” composer Luke Di Somma says.

The tourists were first spotted littering but were then soon destroying hotels, not paying for food, stealing from service stations and ended up in court. 

Presented by New Zealand Opera and Auckland Arts Festival at the Bruce Mason Centre, in Takapuna where it all started.

Seacliff Hospital

A poignant and imaginative reflection on events during Janet Frame’s time at Seacliff Mental Hospital, “The Strangest of Angels is a harrowing and hopeful experience that throws light on mental health then and now.

Co-created by Kenneth Young, Georgia Jamieson Emms and Anna Leese, The Strangest of Angels is born of an exciting and conscious collaboration between composer and performers that explores the contrast between a calm, rational psychiatric patient and a traumatised nurse torn between empathy and the relative power of institutional duty.

World premiere performances directed by Friedlander Foundation Associate Artist Eleanor Bishop and starring Anna Leese and Jayne Tankersley.

Ihitai ‘Avei’a – Star Navigator 

Ihitai ‘Avei’a – Star Navigator which premiered earlier this year at the Auckland Arts Festival is set onboard a cramped British scientific vessel in the vastness of the Pacific where two navigators find themselves locked on a collision course.

One is a Tahitian priest, guided by his ancient knowledge of star pathways. The other a naval officer, desperate to prove both himself and his faith in science.

This work by composer Tim Finn, co-composer Tom McLeod, with Tahitian monologues by Célestine Hitiura Vaite, tells the story of Tupaia, the Tahitian star navigator who sailed with James Cook, on the maiden voyage of the Endeavour in 1769. Ihitai ‘Avei’a – Star Navigator explores the relationship between two master mariners, each from vastly different worlds, both far from home and unable to find their way into each other’s world.

A review by Clare Martin of the original production of the work noted the production  “took the audience by storm, a wall of glorious orchestral sound from Manukau Symphony and choral forces providing commentary and colour for this important story. With conductor Uwe Grodd drawing together these elements with fluent ease and Tim Finn himself at the piano, the ocean voyage began.

Any scepticism that the world of rock could find credibility in opera was dispelled within minutes of the mini-Overture. With a vast aural landscape, it was a hugely exciting and affecting ride. Musical materials were never reductive but rather a fresh and broad sonic scape was presented by Finn. Taonga pūoro (Māori flute) and orchestra blended in rich and genuine expression.


In a new work “Call of the Huia” Michael Vinten takes the audience on an entertaining, informative and frequently fascinating journey of discovery through the forgotten world of the Art Song of Aotearoa.

The now extinct huia was a rare and tapu bird living mainly on the east coast of the North Island. Their calls were mostly a varied array of whistles, “peculiar and strange”, but also “soft, melodious and flute-like.”

Highlights will include works from his collection of mainly unpublished pre-1950 New Zealand Art Songs.  These songs – sung by our grandparents and great-grand parents – provide a glimpse into the preoccupations and concerns of their times through peace and war.  Discover the significant contribution of women both Māori and Pākehā  to music-making of this period as composers and poets.

The work will dispel any notions that there was nothing much happening musically in New Zealand before the Second World War revealing a forgotten chapter of Aotearoa’s musical legacy


Wynyard Wharf February 11 – 14

The Unruly Tourists

Bruce Masson Theatre March 9 =- 13

Star Navigator

Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua, May 13 – 14

The Strangest of Angels

The Piano Christchurch,  27 – 28 May

Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin,  October 14-15

Call of the Huia

The Piano Christchurch, July 31

Public Trust Hall, Wellington, August 7

Concert Chamber Auckland, August 14


Aotea Centre, Auckland, September 21 – 25

St James Theatre, wellington,  October 5 – 9

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch,  October 20 – 22

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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