Hamilton Gardens, Rhododendron Lawn, Hamilton

16/02/2018 - 17/02/2018

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2018

Production Details


A Hamilton première for a Waikato story.  

Singing, acting, kapa haka, film and dance come together in a ground-breaking and dazzling musical drama, written and produced specially for the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2018.

Flowing Water tells the epic story of the Waikato River and all the peoples nurtured by the river – Māori, Pakeha and later migrants in a landmark production supported by Tainui.

Acclaimed writer Witi Ihimaera wraps his magic around the story of the mighty Waikato River and brings it to life for all to enjoy.

“The story of the Waikato River,” he says, “is the story of New Zealand. We are proud to put the Waikato at the forefront of our country’s history.”

This work features a large cast of leading local performers, with music by Janet Jennings, direction by John Drummond, and additional direction by Tom Roa.

Please note this is a BYO seat event.

Rhododendron Lawn (RL)
Friday 16 & 17 February 2018, 8:00 pm
ADMISSION (Booking fees apply)
$65 VIP Experience
$22 General Admission $18 Concession (Under 18, Student, 65+)
$18 Group Rate (6 or more)


Theatre , Opera , Musical , Kapa Haka theatre ,

An historic achievement for opera, theatre and kapa haka performance

Review by Gail Pittaway 18th Feb 2018

This opera production is a spectacular and impressive triumph; a massive undertaking and a massive success. With lyrics and story by Witi Ihimaera, enriched by research and additional writing from Tom Roa, the tribal historian of Waikato-Maniopoto, the prologue tells the story of the Waikato River, from prehistory through the arrival of the tangata whenua in waka and their settlement on its banks.  The latter scene is accompanied by a Cook Island drumming team, reminding us of the Pacific origins of the migrants.

Then come settlers on sailing ships, to recreate the land and towns they had left behind, in a new place, and so develops an uneasy cohabitation of peoples on the banks of the Waikato. The story flows around bends, then eddies and whirls through three acts, as conflict arises from within, without, between and around these two waves of journeying settlers, including two wars, the establishment of the Kīngitanga and the building of a cathedral.

Opera is a particularly demanding art form, uniting words, music, acting, singing and dancing in an often extravagant theatrical event. Flowing Water combines all these forces with new music by composer Janet Jennings, to create a unique creation – one that arises out of the Waikato region – to unite the music, dance and traditions of Māori and Pākehā performing arts. Added to this the technical skills of recording and image-making, all under John Drummond’s sure direction, and the vast cast and many forces present a splendid and moving event.

Jennings’ sumptuous and rippling score marries with Ihimaera’s lively text, with fine performances by many accomplished soloists and choristers. The performers are supported by a continuous track of fine choral singing from ‘Voices New Zealand’, under the direction of Karen Grylls, and this layer of sound adds a rich texture to the overall effect. I am especially taken with the exquisitely sung solos by Mary Jane Tinsley (Anna Mahon) and echoed with equal beauty by Princess Te Puea (Kararaina Walker); “I have paid your price, New Zealand”, over the personal cost of creating this new settlement.

The score also includes orchestral movements for many scenes of action – brilliant dance sections, with river spirits choreographed by Turanga Merito, also hornpipes on board ship and even a ball to entertain Governor Grey. Enhanced by fantastic digital design by Dan Mace, the stage becomes a meeting house, a ballroom, a palisade and Hamilton railway station, as the Waikato regiment marches off to World War I.  

A stand out scene is the Battle of Rangiriri, resonated by a later scene, with the last stand of Te Puea’s grandson at Chunuk Bair. Both make powerful use of silhouetted figures against back screen images. The sequence at Gallipoli shows the soldiers against an unseen foe and a large darkening sky which grows a crescent moon as soldiers recover their dead, then sing a hymn in their loneliness and sorrow.

Not all those in the very large audience see that to the side and in the auditorium, to end this scene, Simpson is there with his donkey, to take the wounded back to camp (another Waikato reference, as the scene was immortalised by painter Horace Moore-Jones who taught art at Hamilton Technical College after he was invalided out of the army).

Another memorable scene is in the simple but powerful coronation of King Pōtatau (James Ioelu) whose sayings add a vision of unity for the future. The Māori villagers, warriors and children are supported by a Pirongia-based kapa haka group, Te Hoana Kaha, and while the two musical and performance traditions tend to alternate, not merge during the show, this emphasises the differences and distinctive character of each, and the difficulty of finding ways to unite.

When the narrator, a tohunga (Taiporutu Tamehana Huata), calls all together in the epilogue, it is for all the cast to join in a karakia for peace – one which is also taken up by several members of the audience, in a truly moving conclusion.    

Teresa Connors and James Maxwell have created a rich virtual orchestral score to accompany the opera and it works exceptionally well in the outdoor setting of the large Rhododendron Lawn in the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.  It is a perfect setting and showcase for the opera and the producers of Flowing Water and the festival directors deserve credit for their vision. While it is about ‘our’ history as contemporary dwellers on the banks of the flowing waters of the Waikato, this is an historic achievement for opera, theatre and kapa haka performance in Aotearoa, New Zealand. 


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