Hohepa. NBR New Zealand Opera.
The Opera House, Wellington.
Also tomorrow at 7.30pm and Sunday at 5pm.
Reviewed by STEPHEN FISHER.
Billed as "An Opera for all New Zealanders", Hohepa has been a long labour of love for New Zealand composer Jenny McLeod. Hohepa brings to life the true story of friendship between Maori chief Hohepa Te Umaroa and Pakeha settler Thomas Mason. It is a stirring work written to face past injustices from which, it is hoped, we will learn.
McLeod may be remembered by locals as the writer of the large-scale theatrical work Under the Sun, written for the Palmerston North centenary. Maybe Under the Sun was vast and unwieldy, but it was certainly exciting, imaginative and ambitious – qualities again reflected in Hohepa.
The cast's talented NZ singers includes lead Phillip Rhodes, Jonathan Lemalu (Te Kumete), Jenny Wollerman (Jane Mason), Martin Snell (Governor Grey), and Deborah Wai Kapohe as Te Rai.
While the operatic genre may be momentarily jarring at the opening, Hohepa settles down to become a very impressive blend of opera and Maori tradition. The work is largely sung in English, but Maori sits comfortably on the ear in appropriate moments.
A small reservation is in the actual staging. Following the stirring opening, director Sara Brodie too often passed over the score's obvious theatrical opportunities. This aside, Hohepa is a towering achievement.
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