THIS OTHER EDEN
10/10/2014 - 16/10/2014
The Festival is privileged to present Opera Otago’s season of the world première of Anthony Ritchie’s newest opera This Other Eden.
The storyline of the opera is based on Michelanne Forster’s stage play of the same name. Set two hundred years ago, the opera tells the story of passionate missionary Thomas Kendall and his friendship with Nga Puhi chief Hongi Hika. The latter unleashes wars of vengeance on rival tribes by astutely exploiting Kendall’s unholy desires.
This great New Zealand story has all the ingredients for gripping musicdrama: romance, war, jealousy, manipulation, spirituality, clash of cultures and Kings and chiefs. Anthony Ritchie, whose opera The God Boy premièred in the 2004 Festival, is one of New Zealand’s most prolific composers. His reputation for creative maturity is confirmed by numerous critical accolades both in New Zealand and abroad.
This Other Eden will be led by international Dunedin Conductor Tecwyn Evans and Director Jacqueline Coats (Cosi 2008 and L’Orfeo 2010). Principal roles will be played by James Rodgers (Thomas Kendall), Elizabeth Mandeno (Jane Kendall) and Joel Amosa (Hongi Hika).
Mayfair Theatre Dunedin
FRI 10 OCT 7.30PM
SUN 12 OCT 2PM
TUES 14 & THURS 16 OCT
duration 2 HRS 30 MINS
Adult $48 / $44
OPERA OTAGO Members $40
Students $25; Children $20
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Fri, Sun, Tue, Thu
Every aspect a delight
Review by Brenda Harwood 11th Oct 2014
The passion and intrigue of New Zealand’s early European history is revisited in all its drama, joy and tragedy in Anthony Ritchie and Michelanne Forster’s new opera, This Other Eden.
In the world premiere performance of this stunning work, presented by Opera Otago last night [October 10] at Dunedin’s Mayfair Theatre, a superb team bring to life pivotal historical figures and some of the earliest encounters between Maori and European.
The friendship between idealistic early missionary Thomas Kendall and fiery Maori chief Hongi Hika, the hardships endured by Kendall’s wife Jane and the other early settlers, and the struggle to find mutual understanding between two war-like races – and the dire consequences of misunderstanding – are all explored.
Michelanne Forster’s libretto, adapted from her own play of the same name, cleverly brings together the disparate elements of a complex historical story to give This Other Eden clarity, while also highlighting the passionate personalities involved.
From the earliest haunting strains of taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments) to the gloriously soaring arias, Anthony Ritchie’s score brilliantly evokes the sound of New Zealand – past and present. Weaving both Maori and European musical tradition together, the music is spellbinding and often very beautiful, especially in several breath-taking moments of ensemble singing.
Under the skilled guidance of stage director Jacqueline Coats and musical director Tecwyn Evans, an impressive group of young singers inhabit their roles like a second skin while singing with power, passion and accuracy.
New York-based New Zealand singer James Rodgers is superb in the pivotal role of Thomas Kendall, highlighting the passion and idealism of the character, while giving a brilliant vocal tenor performance in arias and ensemble work.
University of Otago graduate Joel Amosa is fabulous as Hongi Hika, all flashing eyes and posturing, giving a true sense of the mana and arrogance of this important historical figure. His rich and powerful bass-baritone is wonderfully dramatic, especially as he contemplates the fierce joy of exacting utu (revenge) for past tribal wrongs.
Soprano Elizabeth Mandeno, an emerging artist with New Zealand Opera, is in very fine voice indeed as Jane Kendall, the lonely, dissatisfied missionary’s wife who finds comfort in another man’s arms. Her voice has a lovely intonation and soars effortlessly in arias, duets and ensembles.
Recently returned Dunedin native James Adams tackles the dual roles of stern minister Samuel Marsden and the comically dissolute King George IV with equal aplomp.
Alongside these excellent characterisations, his vocal work is strong and secure in every aspect.
Wellington-based baritone Matt Landreth, also an Otago graduate, makes the most of his role as the educated convict Stockwell, who falls for the lonely Jane and suffers the consequences. He brings a powerful physicality and a very nice vocal intonation to the role.
Fellow Otago graduate Tamara Mayo is queenly indeed as the high-born Maori woman Tungaroa, who is forced by Hongi to marry Kendall. Her characterisation is superb and her voice very fine.
Completing the excellent cast of principals is Clinton Fung, as the frustrated and desperate Waikato, and Matariki Pakaua-Inwood as rival chief Korokoro.
Operating at times as a kind of Greek chorus, and at others as Maori tribes-folk, fierce warriors, or European settlers, the small chorus enhances the physical and musical drama of the piece. Chorus members include Angela Wratt, Georgia Gray, Kelly Bent, Julia Moss-Pearson, Alex Lee, Reynard Dain, Tyler Neumann, Veronika Bell, Tyrin Tutaki, and Kahurangi Salu.
A small Opera Otago Ensemble, comprising some of Dunedin’s most skilled musicians, provide sterling support for the singers throughout the opera, under the baton of Tecwyn Evans. Ritchie’s new music for the work is given a wonderfully controlled performance, with moments of passion and emotion as required. The subtle weaving of Maori and European musical traditions is particularly pleasing.
The rich costuming, created by Brenda Rendall, is beautifully evocative of both Maori and European society of the early 19th century.
The sloping, minimalist set – designed by Martyn Roberts – allows the action to flow smoothly in an opera with many scenes, while the stage management team – led by Linda Brewster – keep things moving along nicely.
Every aspect of This Other Eden is a delight, from the opera’s libretto and score to Opera Otago’s superb interpretation of this important new work. This is New Zealand history as we have never seen it before, and is a brilliant addition to this country’s opera tradition. Highly recommended.
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