BRASS POPPIES

Mercury Theatre, Auckland

11/03/2016 - 12/03/2016

Shed 6, Queens Wharf, Wellington

03/03/2016 - 06/03/2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

Production Details


Music by Ross Harris, libretto by Vincent O’Sullivan
Director Jonathan Alver
Conductor Hamish McKeich


“Extremely visionary … thunderous and awe-inspiring” – Peter Mechen on Requiem for the Fallen, Radio New Zealand Concert’s Upbeat

The World Premiere

This ground-breaking new chamber opera from Ross Harris and Vincent O’Sullivan (Requiem for the Fallen) powerfully portrays Gallipoli as both a military story and one of domestic New Zealand.

Wives and families at home in Wellington are as much to the fore as men in uniform at the front in an innovative depiction of the 1915 battle of Chunuk Bair.

Directed by Jonathan Alver, with award-winning tenor James Egglestone as Wellington Regiment Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone, and the score performed by Stroma New Music Ensemble conducted by Hamish McKeich, Brass Poppies offers fresh perspectives on World War I, along with music and emotional resonances that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.

With surtitles

NZ Festival 2016
Shed 6
Thursday 03 Mar – Sunday 06 Mar 
Adult A $69.00
1hr 15mins (no interval)

Auckland Arts Festival 2016
Mercury Theatre
Fri 11 & Sat 12 March 2016
8:00pm
1hr 15mins no interval
$48 – $65


Singers: James Egglestone - William Malone; Anna Leese - Mary Luck;  Sarah Court - Mrs Malone; Madison Nonoa - Joyce; Andrew Glover - Turk Patriot; Wade Kernot - Fred; Jonathan Eyers - Billy; Robert Tucker - Tommo; Mary Newman -Pound - Lucy


Dancers: Ben Mitchell, Taniora Motutere


Stroma New Music Ensemble


Choreographer: Maaka Pepene
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting
Video design: Jon Baxter
Lighting: Jason Morphett


Theatre , Opera , Music ,


1 hr 15 mins - no interval

Chunuk Stripped Bair

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth 14th Mar 2016

What a pleasure to be back at the Mercury Theatre tonight as a fitting period venue for Auckland Arts Festival’s and NZ Opera’s Brass Poppies. Clearly an important milestone in New Zealand’s development as a nation, and as a catalyst for breaking away from the “motherland” – this piece is brave, important and essential.

In true Kiwi style it is told simply, focussing solely on the cobbers amongst the flying bullets and the gals they left back home.  The optimism and naivety of the young lads sent to war contrasts starkly with the worries of their loved ones. [More]
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Gallipoli libretto gets down to brass tacks

Review by William Dart 14th Mar 2016

Brass Poppies may be a chamber opera, but its 70 minutes achieved the vision and the resonances that one might not find in a piece twice its length.  

The ultimate strength of this thought-provoking production, mounted through the combined faith of New Zealand Opera and the country’s two major arts festivals, lies in the special partnership of its creators: Vincent O’Sullivan and Ross Harris.

O’Sullivan’s crisply-fashioned libretto tells of four Wellington soldiers killed at Gallipoli within the context of their lives in New Zealand. [More]

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Bravely executed - and to be remembered

Review by Hannah Stannard 12th Mar 2016

Brass Poppies is a rare collaborative work. This contemporary chamber opera captures and forces the audience to take a deeper look at the things we ‘least forget’ as New Zealanders who are in the midst of remembering our 100-year anniversary of the brave soldiers who fought for the nation in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Reflecting this bravery (or ‘ordinariness’ as librettist Vincent O’Sullivan suggests), it is a work bravely/ordinarily undertaken and executed by director Johathan Alver, and the talented cast of artists.

O’Sullivan’s poignant lyrics are carried on the back of composer Ross Harris’s melodious eclectic mini orchestra, beautiful aria’s, and powerful chorus from beginning to end. It might be fitting to compare this dynamic duo to the likes of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber… However, in true non-commercial, operatic, slightly edgy, somber Kiwi style.

Brass Poppies emphasizes the impact of war not just for those who fought, but what is connected as one: the beloved family members who suffered the impacts of the 700 men and boys killed at Chunuk Bair in 1915. From the opening, these men are not presented as soldiers, but as husbands, sons, and human beings from Aro Street or Lambton Quay, the places not known so well to an Auckland audience, however, the familiar nooks and crannies of this nation that were still being used to make history and live lives in the duration and aftermath of war and death.

The work of choreographer Maaka Pepene creates a visual language that harmonises this looming presence of war with the warm embrace of the beloved ones left behind. His parallel between the comfort of the rifle on the battlefield, and the comfort of the beloved partner on the home front is seen in the powerful display of crippling and striking movements by dancers Mitchell and Motutere. The dancers appeared in the first act as a baffling, menacing presence, but came to foreshadow the fate of Captain William Malone and his men, and perhaps represent the ghosts of those who had shared a similar fate in the past and with the grief of losing their bodies so unjustly, attached themselves to these men, and fought alongside them. Many operas might be seen to sideline the dancers, or leave them as a pretty afterthought, however, this work harmonises artistic mediums beautifully.

The musicians and conductor are visible throughout. The instruments are carefully chosen to resemble the context of the trenches: an accordion, acoustic guitar, and even a doumbek, a Turkish drum, which carries our senses to the hilltops of Turkey. The AV design also aids the plot and allows the audience greater sympathy with the main characters as the drama unfolds. Four striking panels open with black and white mug shots of our heroes, and provide doors or windows for their counterpart spouses or lovers to appear through. The four couples are strongly established and stand out moments include soprano Anna Leese’s performance as ‘Lady luck’. With clear diction that pierces the hearts of the listeners, she whispers in the soldiers’ ears about the instability of the hand ‘luck’ might deal them. Tenor James Egglestone as William Malone, also delivers the letter to his wife in a beautiful aria, which bares the soul of this Captain of the Wellington Regiment communicating his love to his wife  from a foreign battleground.

Brass Poppies is work that must be seen, must travel, and must be remembered.

   

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Honest. Bare. Truthful.

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 04th Mar 2016

World War One – or in fact any war story – tends to have the words glory, honour and sacrifice blazoned upon it. And while that may all be true, it is refreshing to experience a work that presents the impact of war upon the men who fought it and the women who waited for them at home.

A chamber opera, Brass Poppies presents the individual and then collective experience of war from a Pākehā New Zealand perspective. 

A khaki clad band (Stroma New Music Ensemble) conducted by Hamish McKeich, who threatens to upstage it all with his fantastic hair, enters first. I am quietly excited when an accordion player is with them.

The opening scenes and use of video and imagery is very strong and provocative. There’s no doubting where this story is headed. What is so fresh is how we get there. The layering makes this an emotional journey engaging many senses.

For example, I’ve never seen it shown quite in this way before: the simultaneous staging of what is happening with the women and their men. The play between domesticity and worldwide affairs is the strongest element of this work, assisted ably by the music, which personally I love (my companion not so much), and the physical movement of two of the soldiers in particular.

The writing is hilarious in parts. There is a rather tongue-in-cheek laugh-out-loud moment of what ‘fighting for king and country’ meant in reality rather than the rhetoric. That has real weight to it. Likewise the dance scene prior to disembarkation and scenes in Turkey.

References to Wellington made by the soldiers have a very good way of anchoring the work here and that draws a response from the audience. The pining for home in all its normalities does make you ache for these men who soon find themselves out of their depth. 

A couple of poignant moments stand out: the reading out loud of a letter to his wife, by the husband (Wellington Regiment’s Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone) from Turkey with the lines “Troy isn’t far from here”; the effect generationally war had upon those families and children who never knew their fathers; a card game and of course, the final moments of the soldiers at Chunuk Bair. That scene in particular is highly affecting and effective. 

I am one of maybe 15 or so Māori (most from a Kura Kaupapa) in the audience and what I find myself looking for is the Māori story. Even a day later, searching online for Māori involvement in that regiment is difficult. Surely there must have been Maori – 10,000 Wellington based soldiers went through that regiment. And yet there are movements made by the soldiers, particularly when fighting, that echo a kapa haka formation and mau rakau. That may purely be coincidental or perhaps that is so much a part of our society now that what I see as Māori is what another sees as something else. Or it just may be down to Jonathan Alvers’ direction.

The video design by Jon Baxter in some parts reminds me of the Taki Rua production of All Our Sons. Though saying that, its distinctiveness is absolutely owned by this production. It doesn’t detract, in some parts it anchors and completely strengthens what is happening elsewhere on stage. Love it. Likewise the lighting by Jason Morphett.

There is not a single element of this work that is overindulged or undersold. It is pitched so perfectly to the story it is telling. Honest. Bare. Truthful.

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FF2016 March 8th, 2016

I'm with you all the way Maraea. 

I'm one of 15 or so Gingers in the audience and what I find myself looking for is the Red Head story.  Even a day later, searching on line for Carrot Top involvement in that regiment is difficult.  Surely there must have been Gingers - 10,000 Wellington based soldiers went through that regiment.  And yet there are movements made by the soldieres, particularly when drinking, that echo an Irish pub formation.  That may be purely coincidental...

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