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This Other Eden
Friday, October 10
Not exactly in the traditional form of recitative and aria, this two-act opera is a continuous sung dialogue, appropriately contemporary in musical form and style, intensely portraying scenes from early settlement in New Zealand.
The entire company, led by producer Jacqueline Coates and conductor Tecwyn Evans, are to be congratulated on delivering a deeply passionate and impressive world premiere.
Michelanne Forster (Christchurch) adapted her original play as a libretto, with historical factual material judiciously enriched to create a gripping story line, with emotionally compelling dialogue, traversing many moods: bartering for muskets, vengeance, affairs and infidelity, jealousy and the stoic determination of one Thomas Kendall (James Rodgers), whose passion is to compile a grammar and vocabulary dictionary for Maori language.
An 1820s New Zealand setting, with missionary families, convicts and local Maori, blends Maori customs and spirituality with European. Kendall's wife Jane (Elizabeth Mandeno), convict Richard Stockwell (Matt Landreth) and Samuel Marsden (James Adam) are the European settlers. Local Maori are Nga Puhi chief Hongi Hika (Joel Amosa), Tungaroa (Tamara Mayo), Waikato (Clinton Fung) and Korokoro (Matariki Pakaua-Inwood).
A chorus of missionaries, Maoris or storytellers generated a strong choral blend, Constantly strident vocal lines accompanied the tense and often violent scenes, but there were some really beautiful and emotional scenes and arias.
Kendall, Hongi and Waikato's London audience with King George IV (Adam) was in contrasting vein, injecting subtle humour and lighter moments,Some of Dunedin's best professional musicians interpreted what appeared to be a challenging orchestral score.
Authenticity in costuming (Brenda Rendall), a simple set with changing sky and seascape backdrop and astute lighting completed this tense dramatic work, which deserves full support.
- Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman