Mansfield Park

Public Trust Hall, Cnr Lambton Quay & Stout Street, Wellington

17/04/2024 - 18/04/2024

Settlers Country Manor, 81 Waimauku Station Road, Huapai, Auckland

21/04/2024 - 21/04/2024

Production Details

Written by: Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton
Directed by: Rebecca Meltzer
Maestro Concertatore: Brad Cohen
Photo Credit: Lewis Ferris

New Zealand Opera, a production by Waterperry Opera Festival.

Open the door on the hidden world of the Regency drawing room, as we dive into Jane Austen’s timeless tale of manners, marriage, and money.

This unique production, staged in some of our most historic venues, promises an intimate musical experience that Austen herself would have relished. Join us as we step back in time to explore the delicate dance of love, ambition and societal expectations in Austen’s world.

Sung in English.

17 & 18 April 2024
Public Trust Hall
Te Whanganui-a-Tara

21 April 2024
2.30pm & 7.30pm
Settlers Country Manor
Tāmaki Makaurau

Tickets $67.50-$95
Bookings and tickets: or 0800 696 737

Composer Jonathan Dove: taking opera outside the opera house

Elizabeth Kerr, Five Lines 

Artist profile

Ask English composer Jonathan Dove to describe one of his most memorable career moments and he’ll probably choose the time a samba band, representing Oliver Cromwell’s avenging army, “burst through the main doors of Peterborough Cathedral, battling with the organ, sweeping up the 600 performers and as many audience, and leading them out across the market square and into a huge shopping mall, where young angels came singing down the escalators.” It was 1995, and the work was his opera In Search of Angels, the third and largest community work he composed for Glyndebourne Opera. [More]

Fanny Price: Ashlyn Tymms
Sir Thomas Bertram: Robert Tucker
Lady Bertram: Kristin Darragh
Julia Bertram: Michaela Cadwgan
Edmund Bertram: Joel Amosa
Aunt Norris: Andrea Creighton
Mary Crawford: Joanna Foote
Mr Rushworth: Andrew Grenon
Maria Bertram: Tayla Alexander
Henry Crawford: Taylor Wallbank

Piano Accompaniment: David Kelly and Soomin Kim
Props & Wardrobe: Sophie Ham

Opera , Theatre , Music ,

2hr 15 mins

A most ingenious contrivance - and Fanny is delightful!

Review by Max Rashbrooke 23rd Apr 2024

Dear Cousin – I must tell you of the Splendid Entertainment we had last night, at the opera. A most ingenious contrivance – Mansfield Park, but with just 10 singers, one small stage & by way of accompaniment, four hands at the piano.

It was all very sprightly, I must say: the scenes quite short, the singers circulating rapidly & the chapter titles sung in the archest manner imaginable. Of course one loses something of the subtlety of the book when the action is so compressed! But then the ensemble work is superb, and even if one could wish for a little more variety in Mr Dove’s musical writing, still it rattles along in fine style. I thought the pianists particularly good. [More]


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In times of job cuts, genocide, and climate change, an adventure into the West is a lovely distraction.

Review by Renee Liang 23rd Apr 2024

Over the past few years, NZ Opera has become more agile in its productions, breaking opera out of its proscenium arches to land in cathedrals, on a table in a library, even a hotel room.  Taking this a stage further, Mansfield Park (2011), a chamber opera based on Jane Austen’s 1814 novel of the same name, was written specifically to be performed in English manor houses.

Composer Jonathan Dove took ‘singing around the piano in a drawing room’ as the inspiration for his reworking of Austen’s understated novel but on first impressions, Settler’s Country Manor is hardly the ‘intimate setting’ imagined by Dove in his program note.

It’s an adventurous trek out to the far west of Auckland (I heard of at least one car that got stuck in the mud). Once parked with the aid of torch bearing NZ Opera staff, we cross a rural highway, enter a walled garden and go up the steps to a grand hall. It’s a sight – a pastiche of Tudor wood panelling and imitation Renaissance furnishings. There are fairy lights, a bar selling wine and garlic wedges, and a giant LED screen locating us in a Regency drawing room. We can’t resist a pose by the armour.

But even with hundreds of people packed in, when the piano starts, the room grows smaller. Just ten singers, minimal costume changes, some chairs and simple props – and two skilled players on a grand piano. My seat is right by the instrument, but the singers are louder, and they easily soar their voices right to the back of that cavernous hall.  It’s thrilling to be in a space where modern amplification isn’t used. (It used to be like that everywhere, but now it’s rare to have an unmiked performance in a large performance venue).

Director Rebecca Meltzer’s deceptively simple staging is a joy. The ensemble cast work well in a compressed space, and the audience giggle as they recognise theatrical tricks: people becoming trees by standing on chairs with arms outstretched; the physical gag of a man in a silly hat.  But it all fits, and it’s faithful to the narrative of a society family trying the pass the time with ‘amusements’ while trying to work out who might be matrimonial material.

Alistair Middleton’s libretto is both faithfully period (some parts directly quote Austen) and knowingly contemporary. Act 1 introduces the Bertram family who reside at Mansfield Park, their socially disadvantaged cousin, Fanny Price, and the rich new neighbours Henry and Maria Crawford, who are mostly introduced to spice up the marriage stakes.

Mansfield Park is disarmingly comedic and sightly meta from the start. There are a few zany surprises. Although the singers have a core character, they also act as narrators (each scene is announced by a different singer with a description befitting of a Friends episode) and their self-introductions reveal much. The cast is stacked with singers who are also great actors; Robert Tucker once again excels as the kind but conservative, probably slave owning, Lord Bertram, while Andrew Grenon makes a deliciously awkward Mr Rushworth. Sarah Mileham makes an assured debut as a saucepot Maria Bertram, while Michaela Cadwgan plays her frustrated sister Julia.

Likewise, the text casts a modern eye on the preoccupation with position and appearance.  “We certainly are a handsome family,” states Lady Bertram (Kristin Darragh) sincerely at one stage. But she and her Pug (a hand puppet) are rather sweet, with Darragh occasionally demonstrating her impressive vocal range as a dog.

Opera is known for its life and death stakes, yet in an Austen no one’s going to get out a knife or rip open their corset. (It’s not Bridgerton, folks.) It’s far more subtle, pauses and sideway glances. Fanny Price is famously passive, definitely prudish, given to boring moralising. She’s a hard sell as the heroine. Ashlyn Tymms in this role gives a still, centred performance. But the other ensemble roles each have their narrative moments and each singer gets their chance to shine.

The spareness of Middleton’s libretto gives little opportunity to enjoy Austen’s famously acerbic commentary. Instead, the authorial eyeroll is conveyed by Meltzer’s direction. In this work – refreshingly for an opera – women hold all the power. Even if it’s just the power to withhold a yes.

Where Act One is all about witnessing folly, and perhaps goes on too long, Act Two is where the big emotional punches sit. Here too is where Dove pulls the cleverest compositional tricks. Mansfield Park is also innovative in a musical sense, eschewing the traditional structure (big, decision-making arias linked by patches of narrative recit). In most of the Act I the recit flows into multivoice counterpoint then back again, and it’s hard to discern separate arias. But at the beginning of Act 2 there’s a very satisfying sequence where the movements of the singers in a dance mirror the way their voices weave in and out, and that then leads into the narratively complex scenes ‘A proposal’ and ‘Some Correspondence’ where conversations cross and echo, as does the music. 

But ultimately, we come to the opera for a big ol’ dose of the feels – and the final scene delivers. I mean, when Joel Amosa as Edmund sings, “Oh Fanny, my pale and certain star-“ it’s hard to resist that voice and the emotion in his appeal. Tymm’s reply as Fanny is equally emotive – at long last – and I felt that familiar rush of oxytocin, and something in my eye.

Mansfield Park isn’t about big themes, even if the publicity claims it to be. In these times, in the world beyond the walled garden with public sector job cuts and hospitals falling apart with understaffing and genocide and climate change, there’s not a lot that a two-century old tale about a privileged family obsessed with breeding can teach us. But as a night out, an adventure into the West, it’s a lovely distraction.


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Singing of a consistently high standard, outstanding design and direction

Review by Tim Stevenson 19th Apr 2024

Splendid singing; a fast-paced, lively story; wit, sexual intrigue and a vein of passionate emotion; a versatile, eloquent score; brilliant directing and an accomplished, well-disciplined cast. There is a lot to like and admire about this latest New Zealand Opera offering, as well as an intriguing glimpse into a possible direction for opera in the future.

The story of the opera is based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name. The Cinderella-like heroine, Fanny Price, is an abused, patronised and neglected attachment to the Bertram family, owners and occupiers of the eponymous country estate. The period is the English Regency, the ambience is refined, polite and obsessed with money and social position.

The Bertrams are going about their business – which notably includes the forthcoming marriage between foolish (but rich) Mr Rushworth and selfish, wilful Maria – when two elegant strangers, Mary and Henry Crawford, join the company. Soon, the plot thickens somewhat.

Sir Henry is called away on business. The young people socialise and flirt, and finally come up with a plan to entertain themselves by putting on a play. This creates a flurry of conflicts and choices. Should the play go ahead? What do the rules of propriety say? The fictional lives of the play’s characters begin to intertwine with the lives of the Bertrams and Crawfords in all manner of disruptive ways.

Fanny refuses to act in the play – she is a person of deep sensibility and moral discernment, but frankly isn’t much fun. However, she is drawn into the various dilemmas of those around her, particularly Edmund Bertram, for whom she has a profound but undeclared devotion. But Bertram is drawn to witty, cynical Maria Crawford.

The original Mansfield Park is commonly regarded as one of Austen’s less sparkling novels. One of the admirable achievements of this production is that it remains largely faithful to its source in story, setting and themes while still creating a performance that is consistently entertaining and attractive. Dove and Middleton have contributed a well-judged selection of material (the libretto is a masterclass in the art of summary), some creative embellishment of Austen’s text, and a deft marriage of music and words. After that comes all the skills that the director, production team and cast bring – more about this later.

Some interesting plot and moral dimensions are played down in the process of converting the novel to its operatic form. Examples are the contrast between Fanny’s shabby-poor origins and the material comfort of the Bertram residence, and Sir Thomas’s (probable) status as a slave owner. What’s left is a tightly-constructed narrative about moral choice made under conditions of adversity, and the rewards and penalties that come with those choices.

The production has assembled an accomplished cast with a rich variety and depth of local and international experience. The singing is of a consistently high standard, with all involved well up to the vocal and acting demands of their parts. Were some voices flagging a little towards the end of the night? If so, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

This is an ensemble cast with no ‘star’ parts, but standouts for your reviewer were soprano Joanna Foote as Mary Crawford and Joel Amosa as Edmund Bertram. Foote not only sings with power and expression, but shows fine ability as an actress – I particularly enjoy her performance in character in the ‘Lovers’ Vows’ scenes. Amosa brings a level of warmth and sincerity to his role that makes us believe in him as the object of desire for two such different women as Fanny and Mary.

Much of the credit for the success of this production lies in its outstanding design and direction. It appears from the program that director Rebecca Meltzer has directed this work previously overseas, but she’s still had to work with a new cast and bring concepts she may have developed elsewhere to a new setting.

The production makes the most of the on-and off-stage space in the Wellington venue. Its inventive use of well-choreographed static tableaux and movement around the stage deserves a paragraph of praise on its own. I’m sure that Meltzer doesn’t need more praise from critics to add to her no doubt bulging portfolio, but she’s got it anyway.

Further credit is due to Maestro concertatore Brad Cohen for the production’s high level of musical polish. Soomin Kim and David Kelly provide the piano accompaniment, a Herculean role in which they triumph.

The slimmed-down ‘chamber opera’ format used for Mansfield Park is designed for smaller productions and also venues, where – to judge by last night’s performance – it can produce exceptional results in the right hands.


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