From a first audience of nine 11 years ago to 200 concerts
a year around the country and seven overseas tours for music
lovers, Operatunity has developed a thriving musical company.
Charmian Smith talks to one of the directors.
Operatunity actor/direstor Geoffery Hughes in the pantomime
Puss 'n Gumboots. Photo by Grey Star.
Directors Geoffrey Hughes, Susan Boland and John Cameron
got tired of singers complaining there was no work for them, so
the trio of opera singers decided to make work for themselves
"We basically decided the world doesn't owe you a living so
we formed Operatunity to work for ourselves and fellow
singers, and we survive totally on box office. For an arts
organisation, that's unheard of in New Zealand," Hughes said
in a telephone interview from Whangarei.
He and his troupe were setting up the theatre for the 11am
performance of their Christmas pantomime, Puss 'n
Gumboots, having driven from Hamilton where they had
performed the previous day.
They will be performing in Mosgiel on December 3.
Although they do not receive any grants or sponsorship,
Hughes claims they are the largest provider of live
entertainment in the country, giving more than 200 concerts a
year in eight national tours to 24 venues.
"We are like an old English repertory company, drive into
town, set up, do the show, pack it up and drive off to the
next town. It's an old tradition that's very rarely done
From an audience of nine for their first concert 11 years
ago, they now have more than 10,000 on their mailing list -
"they say an overnight success takes 10 years hard work," he
The company specialises in daytime concerts followed by
lunch, and the audience is mostly older, but also includes
younger people who are able to attend during the day.
For their eight concert tours each year they aim to present
completely different styles of music. Next year songs from
musicals feature in one, "popera" - opera, light opera and
pop crossover music in another, Forbidden Broadway (a
spoof of Broadway musicals), music for romantics from
crooners such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,
and Irish music feature in others, he said.
The three directors brainstorm the themes for each season,
hire the performers and, on the basis of who they have,
choose the music and apply for the performing rights.
"Usually it's four to five singers and accompanist, or three
singers and three in a band. 'The best of classics' had four
singers and a string trio."
Such a schedule, 24 concerts in 24 cities in 24 days with
weekends between, is hard work, especially as the performers
do everything themselves, setting up the stage, scenery,
props and lighting, as well as running the box office and
serving a lunch of sandwiches, cakes, tea and coffee to the
guests after the show. They aim to keep ticket prices low, at
$30, which provides very little profit, he said.
"When we initially started the concerts 11 years ago we would
come on stage, sing, run backstage and make sandwiches and
come back on stage. Now we have 500 in the audience that's a
bit of a tough ask, so we have sandwiches delivered."
Next year they are planning to offer evening concerts as well
as the daytime ones, he said.
At the suggestion of some audience members, the company has
developed a travel club which includes concerts and other
music-associated activities on its tours. Among the five
staff in the Auckland office, they employ a full-time travel
agent to organise the seven trips a year.
"I've just come back from the Murray River [in Australia]
where we chartered the Murray Princess and took 104
people on that. A few years ago we went to Norfolk Island and
chartered an airbus from Air New Zealand, filled that and had
70 on the waiting list. We took singers and performers and
gave concerts on the island."
Another trip was a visit to the birthplaces of Bach,
Beethoven, Mozart and other European composers. The tours
attract mothers and daughters who want to spend quality time
together, and now they have a "mothers and daughters" club,
One of the three directors goes on each concert tour and each
overseas trip has one director who follows it from its
inception and knows it inside out so they can solve any
problems that arise on the way.
"We work long hours just to keep the machine on the road," he
In Mosgiel on Monday, Operatunity will be performing its
Christmas panto, Puss 'n' Gumboots, written by Hughes.
"It's done in a traditional English style, but being daytime
and a more conservative audience I couldn't put in all the
double entendres normal in slightly risqué English pantos,
but there's lots of jokes including topical ones about the
American election and toxic exports from Australia with Paul
Henry being sent back, audience participation, the panto
dame, a man dressed as a woman and a woman dressed as a man -
the queen's a man and the king's a woman, and there's the
usual villain. It's loosely based on Puss in Boots who
travels through fairy-tale land."
The songs include Fred Dagg's If It Weren't For Your
Gumboots, the Cat duet by Rossini, I Wonder What the
King's Doing Tonight from Camelot, Tomorrow
from Annie, the evil witch sings I Wanna Be
Evil and many other popular songs, he said.
Operatunity also does corporate events, and for 15 years it
used to take opera to schools with its Class Act Opera.
However, that went into recess when the Government cut music
and arts funding for schools, They hope to resurrect it at
some stage but it is not financially viable at present, he
Operatunity's Christmas pantomime is at Coronation Hall,
Mosgiel on December 3 at 11am.
For more information, visit www.operatunity.co.nz.