The Trapeze Artists

Hanover Hall, 65 Hanover St, Dunedin

17/03/2024 - 19/03/2024

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Composed by Anthony Ritchie
Created by Louise Petherbridge
Directed by Terry MacTavish
Musical Direction by Sanaz Rezai

Opera Otago

“Moth at the window, The window dissolves, Wind in the stone, springs Sparks … The trapeze artists Swing out and lock their iron wrists.”

Stirred by the lyrical and edgy poems of Cilla McQueen and Hone Tuwhare, Louise Petherbridge  commissioned Anthony Ritchie  to write this mystical mini-opera in 1996.

Dunedin has not forgotten the enchantment of The Trapeze Artists. However, nearly thirty years later, Opera Otago has been inspired to recreate its magic. Led by Terry MacTavish re-creating Louise’s work, Ritchie’s music is interpreted by Sanaz Rezai with Lloyd Williams, and presenting an exciting new cast of stunning singers: Tessa Romano, Cathy Highton-Sim and Kieran Kelly.

The Trapeze Artists stretches boundaries within the artform, with its varying styles and skilful use of symbolic action … The Māori component in Hone Tuwhare’s poetry ensures it reflects our bicultural heritage … artistically convincing, of high quality, innovative, entertaining and appealing.” (Fortune Theatre 1996)

Hanover Hall March 17@2pm, March 18th and 19th and 19th @6pm.

General admission is $20 payable at the door or

Tessa Romano – Circus Woman
Cathy Highton-Sim – Woman
Kieran Kelly – Man

Piano Sanaz Rezai
Double bass Lloyd Williams
Percussion Georgie Watts

Costumes -Charmian Smith
Lighting Jordan Wichman

Music , Opera , Theatre ,

45 mins

Life swings high and low in opera

Review by Elizabeth Bouman 28th Mar 2024

Opera Otago’s contribution to Dunedin Fringe Festival events opened yesterday with a brilliant performance of The Trapeze Artists, a chamber opera written in 1996 by Anthony Ritchie.

Hanover Hall with special lighting and atmosphere was an appropriate venue for this unique work, which enthralled the large audience at the opening performance.

The original commission nearly 30 years ago was by Louise Petherbridge, who conceived the idea, researched and created a libretto from poems by Cilla McQueen and Hone Tuwhare. [More]


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A tribute to a remarkable talent

Review by Judith Laube 17th Mar 2024

The Trapeze Artists, presented by Opera Otago, is a medley of art forms first conceived by Louise Petherbridge QSO: a talented actor, director, deviser, producer and lecturer who died earlier this year. Gifted composer Anthony Ritchie wrote the music for this chamber opera and the words (chosen by Louise) are from poetry by two of our best known and loved poets Cilla McQueen and Hone Tuwhare.

Louise Petherbridge was to direct, but her assistant, Terry MacTavish, a well known actor, director and reviewer in her own right, stepped into the breach to take over that role. The production stands as a tribute to the remarkable talents of Louise, the writers, singers, musicians and technicians involved. The inaugural production was in 1996 and it was well received by drama and music enthusiasts. It is just as warmly welcomed today.

Hanover Hall is the home of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and it is a warm and attractive space with excellent acoustics. There is a small raised dais beneath a railed balcony with curved stairs at each end. A round rose window of stained glass above the balcony recalls the hall’s origins as a church.

This makes a splendid backdrop and performing space for the three players.

Tessa Romano is the Circus Woman. She makes a powerful entrance and dominates the stage in her magnificent costume. A short top hat echoes the Chagall-inspired poster and her scarlet cloak and black jacket with elaborate gold braid are worn over a colourful sequinned top. She has long boots and a whip to reinforce the dominatrix vibe and her make up is a tour de force with the red and black sometimes suggesting heat but always conveying authority. It is wonderful to see Charmian Smith once more exercising her formidable talents in wardrobe. The Man (Kieran Kelly) and the Woman (Cathy Highton-Sim) wear several costumes, and the changes are slick and tie in smoothly with the songs and music.

The first part of the programme is sung to four poems by Cilla McQueen. They are: “The Trapeze Artists”, “Rapunzel”, “Wild Sweets” and “Bad Bananas” and they have a wild energy. Not only can these people sing but they can act as well. They celebrate possibilities and the young man and woman reach towards each other but must surrender to the puppet mistress who controls their destinies. The most popular is “Bad Bananas” where Kelly is a no good hoodlum and Highton-Sim his disreputable bikie chick. These poems are separated by Hone Tuwhare’s “Thine Own Hand Has Fashioned” but the haunting repetition of Delilah at the end of Hone’s poem, beautifully sung individually and together by the artists, bridges the work of the two poets.

Hone Tuwhare’s poems are more sombre with “Tangi” and “Prelude” taking different tones to consider death; cleverly used by the director to make a clean transition on the stage. “The Old Place” sees the lovers clothed in dark coats with covered heads. There is an Eastern European look. I think about war as the repetitive percussion and emphatic rhythm brings to mind marching and oppression. It is the relentless progression of time and the inevitable passing of youth and beauty.

The music matches superbly with the words. The musical director is Sanaz Rezai, who plays piano. She is always there with the right emphasis but as an equal part; never dominating the senses. She captures the changing moods. Lloyd Williams plays the double bass. He brings a sonorous gravity to the performance and reminds us of the delicate balance that we humans must achieve as we navigate the high wire of our little lives and the constant pull of gravity. Georgie Watts plays all the percussion instruments and swings from the lively optimism of drum rolls to thundering cymbal clashes and sinister steady beats.

Lighting and Graphic design is by Jordan Wichman. She makes good use of colour and reinforces the choice of costumes and use of space.

Director Terry MacTavish melds the different performers and spaces into a coherent whole. Transitions between poems are clean and smooth. When actors change clothes or move aside to give focus to the singer, it is natural and co-ordinated. The slides between scenes are built into the narrative, just as the music and the words are distinct entities yet work seamlessly together. MacTavish uses the different levels of the stage effectively and has found ways to involve the actors when they are not delivering lines themselves.

This is a high level production demonstrating the compounding effect of multiple art forms working together. Louise Petherbridge would be proud.


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