Insightful opera and classical music

Anna Leese - Opera Singer. Photo supplied.
Anna Leese - Opera Singer. Photo supplied.
Excitement is building for Dunedin-based soprano Anna Leese, who is at the centre of two major projects during the Dunedin Arts Festival — an opera and the St Paul’s at One series.

Lees and fellow soprano Jayne Tankersley will perform opera The Strangest of Angels, described as "an imaginative reflection" on events during author Janet Frame’s time at Seacliff Mental Hospital.

The opera will be staged on October 12 and 13 at the Mayfair Theatre.

The opera was written by Dunedin-based composer Kenneth Young in collaboration with Leese and Georgia Jamieson Emms, and was premiered in Christchurch for Opera NZ.

The inspiration for the project came from Leese, whose PhD studies focus on examining the process of co-creation between performers and composers.

Young and Leese wrote the main aria together for her character — a nurse, Katherine — in The Strangest of Angels.

Leese is using the aria as a case study for her PhD, along with pieces by fellow Dunedin composers Dame Gillian Whitehead and Anthony Ritchie.

"It is a fascinating area of study, and I have been so lucky to have access to these amazing composers," she said.

Having been in the previous Christchurch production, a film of the opera directed by Rebecca Tansley, and now the Dunedin production directed by Eleanor Bishop, Leese has experienced three different approaches to the piece.

"Everything about the project has been interesting and challenging as an artist. It will be really good to perform it for Dunedin audiences.

"Audience members will feel like they have experienced a day in the life at Seacliff."

As in a previous Dunedin Arts Festival, Leese has curated the St Paul’s at One series, set to run from October 18 to 22 at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The programme of lunchtime concerts features some of Aotearoa’s most exciting classical musicians — instrumentalists and vocalists.

"They are all people who are friends of mine — the New Zealand classical music world is a small one," Leese said.

"Also, my aim has been to bring together a real mixture of styles within the classical realm — and I think I have done that."

The performers include soprano Emma Pearson and classical guitarist Barkjin Sertkaya, NZ Trio, Leese’s own vocal group Takiri Ensemble, and the southern Maori focused music of Tararua Ensemble.

Aimed squarely at small children and families, the Beethoven to Baby performance on October 20, features well-known music arranged for six players from the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.

To make it accessible to all, the Beethoven to Baby session is free.

"I’m really hoping for a good turnout for this concert. It’s so lovely to see the little children loving the music and dancing along," Leese said.