Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

04/08/2021 - 04/08/2021

Production Details

Orchestra Wellington and New Zealand Opera come together at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington with composer Lucy Mulgan to create a brand new operatic work for 2021 – RED!. Using the well-known and much-loved story of Little Red Riding Hood, this freshly composed piece will see over 100 children performing alongside professional performers.

Featuring internationally renowned opera singers Robert Tucker, Natasha Te Rupe Wilson and Catrin Johnsson, with Direction by Jacqueline Coats and music direction by Brent Stewart, RED! promises to be a fun, fresh opera with dazzling star quality! 

Don’t miss Orchestra Wellington and New Zealand Opera at their brilliant best! Limited tickets available.

Michael Fowler Centre, 111 Wakefield Street, Te Aro, Wellington
Wednesday, August 4th, 7pm

Theatre , Opera , Family , Children’s ,

45 mins

Inspired blend of children’s perspectives and professional skills

Review by Jo Hodgson 06th Aug 2021

Take a well-known fairy tale, modernise it then add the dynamic composition by Lucy Mulgan (a NZ’er living in the UK) for a professional orchestra, three fabulous opera singers and a few hundred school kids. Add and stir in the skilful direction from Jacqueline Coats and musical direction from Brent Stewart, and you have RED!, a production as scrumptious as the treats for Granny in Red’s backpack.  

Cancelled in Wellington’s recent level 2 lockdown, we are fortunate to be here at the Michael Fowler Centre for this rescheduled performance.

Red! opens with a burst of brass and percussion and Red (otherwise known as Red Riding Hood – played by Natasha Wilson) introduces herself with a bounce in her step while cheerfully scatting along with the instruments, but this spritely introduction turns with the statement, “I hope they aren’t mean to me today.”

Cue the huge chorus of school students – from Kelburn Normal School, Holy Cross School, Miramar North School, Newtown School and Northland School – who completely fill the choir stalls and, at this point, characterise the teasing and bullying so that poor Red heads home dejected and alone.

While the basic premise of the Red Riding Hood story with the girl, the wily wolf and Granny is essentially the same, the modernisation of seeing Red as much more complex, and the fleshing out of her character, has us identifying with her worries and fears, and empathising as she tells her mother (Catrin Johnsson) of her dislike of the colour red when she is gifted her red cloak, because it makes her think of the heat of the embarrassment and anger she feels when treated meanly.

In today’s age of acknowledging and allowing big feelings, this story is fantastic for young and old to see as well as learn from. I’m sure the process of workshopping with the children’s chorus involved all sorts of brainstorming on these emotions and fears and strategies for how Red could manage these feelings (a huge and highly skilled undertaking by director Jacqueline Coats).  To solidify these ideas in the story, her mother, as observed by the 10 yr old I am with, helps Red see another perspective, one of red being precious and strong like a heart.  

Robert Tucker, as the dapperly costumed Wolfie (stepping into the role later in the process as this role was originally going to be played by Jonathan Lemalu) is narcissistic, persuasive, but very deluded about pulling the wool over Granny and Red’s eyes.

He oozes and struts and entices the chorus to join him in some catchy munching and crunching vocal rounds as he observes Red putting the delicious food for Granny in her backpack.

The middle section of the story has been developed through workshopping with the children’s chorus. Brent Stewart guides the children in creating a soundscape of body percussion and vocalising as Red enters the bush on her way to Granny’s house. This is set over an improvisational styled orchestration (wonderfully played by Orchestra Wellington) adding to the ambience and foreshadowing of what is to come including an ever present time ticking in the percussion section.

As per the original, Red is delayed by Wolfie to pick flowers, while he rushes ahead to the house in the woods where Granny (Catrin Johnsson) has some serious pluck and challenges the Wolf to a boxing match. Here we have some great physical theatre comedy before Granny is ultimately trapped and Wolfie prepares for Red’s arrival.

The ensuing conclusion sees Red save the day rather than the original tale’s woodcutter hero, putting her squarely in the driver’s seat of her choices and trust in her self-worth and ability to overcome adversity.

Being a first hearing of a new opera, I couldn’t always pick up the lyrics and I know the youngsters with me found it difficult to hear them with enough clarity in this operatic vocal styling too, but we will look forward to being able to listen again once the Radio New Zealand recording becomes available.

The music written for the children’s chorus is perfectly pitched, both vocally and theatrically. It is a joy hearing these singers using their natural children’s voices. Nothing forced and collectively they make a wonderful sound. There is plenty for them to be engaged with and I love seeing the individual expression within the whole picture.

For the children to work with the professional musicians and creative team in this way is inspired and to engage with and hear this operatic genre. The three leads are wonderful and obviously enjoy the playfulness of their characters too and they are fantastically supported by the orchestra with an exciting mix of musical styling and creative uses of timbre in the range of instrumentation called for.

The traditions of musical storytelling have long been part of our world with the likes of Peter and the Wolf, Tubby the Tuba and the story ballets like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and it is wonderful to see new creations being composed with today’s child and world in mind.

Red! receives a rapturous reception on its New Zealand premiere.


Amy Herozag August 7th, 2021

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