War Hero Talk

Come and hear John Drummond talk about his War Hero opera! Wednesday 7 June, 5.15 pm, Moot Hall, Richardson Building, University campus.

Opera Otago presents John Drummond’s new opera War Hero

Based on Archibald Baxter’s autobiography, We Will Not Cease, and Michael Galvin’s play War Hero, this opera tells the unforgettable story of an Otago farmer who became New Zealand’s most famous conscientious objector in World War 1.

With an all-male cast led by international NZ tenor Andrew Glover, War Hero is a powerful representation of the casual brutality and extraordinary bravery of men caught up in the devastating experiences of the military world in wartime. As we remember the courage of those who fought – and died – for their country, we should also remember those who stood up for what they believed, however unpopular. It takes courage to say no.

John Drummond is one of New Zealand’s most successful opera composers. He has written fifteen operas, including full-length works like Plague Upon Eyam (1983), The Stars in Orion (1998), Larnach (2006) and A Schoolgirl Revolution, performed in Prague in 2009. His one-act opera The Illustrious Stranger won the Opera Factory chamber opera competition in 2015. Dunedin audiences also heard the Southern Sinfonia and City Choir perform his oratorio on Captain Scott’s fateful expedition to the South Pole, The Journey Home, in 2012.

War Hero is a powerful experience. Baxter’s journey from his arrest through his experiences at the hands of the military authorities, including his receiving Field Punishment No 1, being sent into no-man’s-land, and being incarcerated in a mental asylum, was a terrible one, and, like those who fought in the war, he did not emerge unscathed. The music of the opera takes us into dark places, but also reflects the optimism and determination of Baxter. His love of poetry, which helped guide him through his ordeals, is reflected in moments of lyrical beauty. At the end of the opera, his position, and those of the soldiers who fought, are reconciled in music which brings hope for the future.

Performances at the Mayfair Theatre are from Saturday 22 July to Saturday 29 December. Tickets will soon be available on this website, or from Miracle in Wall Street Mall.

60 Years Old and Still Going Strong!

Dunedin Opera Company – a.k.a Opera Otago – is 60 years old this year. We think we’re the oldest opera company in NZ in continuous existence. We’ve done over 100 productions, launched the careers of many young singers, entertained audiences with masterpieces of the repertoire – and presented more new NZ operas than anyone else in this country.

We celebrated last month with a Dinner, and then an Extravaganza Show at the Mayfair Theatre with everyone’s favourite extracts.

On April 8-9-10 we launch House Opera – a new experience of presenting opera in private homes. This weekend we are at Dunedin’s famous home Olveston, where we’ll perform Menotti’s favourite The Telephone and John Drummond’s Dearest Maurice.

We’ve also decided to close down our long-running Mayfair Costume Hire business. It used to raise money to help fund our productions, but those days are now gone; we were having to subsidise it from our opera takings! Most of the costumes have been bought, but a final auction will be held on the premises on Sunday 17 April. Go along for some bargains!

Our production at the end of the year is Philip Norman’s A Christmas Carol, a great musical version of Charles Dickens’s beloved story.


A reflection on The Magic Flute journey

As with all stage productions, being part of a show involves learning new faces, new names, multiple lines, extensive music, different stage manoeuvres and becoming familiar with your own personal in-depth character development.

The Magic Flute has been an exciting journey and it has been a pleasure to see this wonderful opera spring to life on stage. What has been most interesting for me is seeing how the Magic Flute can be adapted to fit a modern setting, and how its story is adaptable for numerous different contexts.

John Drummond has done an exceptional job in developing this new interpretation. The most crucial part to creating a successful production is the ability of the cast and crew to work together as an ensemble, as each individual is a crucial part to the success of the overall show.

The biggest challenge for me as a performer in this show was being a soprano singing a mezzo role. Through this I got the opportunity to explore a range of my voice that I hadn’t delved into before.

It has been a pleasure working with Tianyi Lu as musical director and experiencing her natural musical style and grace first hand. It was wonderful once the cast was introduced to the orchestra and we had our first sitzprobe.

Despite only being a small ensemble of 10, the orchestra really managed to capture the mood of the opera. A turning point for every performer in any production is the first performance with a live audience.

The moment the audience is there, the opera takes on a whole different feel and each performer discovers a new energy which makes the production steps up a level.

One performance to go! See you there, 7:30pm Friday 19th June.


Post by Calla Knudson-Hollebon, Third Guide

Calla Knudson-Hollebon, age 18, current student at Otago University.
“I have performed as “Cosette” in Taieri Musical Society’s “Les Misérables” in 2013, with the New Zealand Youth Choir and appeared as soprano soloist for City Choir Dunedin in their performance of the Messiah in 2012 and Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb in 2014. I was also a member of the 2011-2012 New Zealand Secondary Students’ choir and soloist for St Kilda Brass Band. I am currently training privately with Isabel Cunningham.”

Review of The Magic Flute by Elizabeth Bouman (uncut!)

Review from Elizabeth Bouman

The Magic Flute
Mayfair Theatre Saturday 13th June.


“It’s a brave and brilliant man of music who dares to take one of Mozart’s best loved operas and totally rewrite the libretto for this century.  But Dunedin’s John Drummond did just that to (Open Italics) The Magic Flute(Close Italics), and Opera Otago’s opening night packed Mayfair Theatre audience loved every word of it. 


Call it what you will – “morphed Mozart” or “Mozart makeover,” but 2015 English text worked splendidly for this 1791 comedy opera, as its fantasy plot and characters relocated to a world of corporate business and environmental extremists.  Production was led by Drummond, and international conductor Tianyi Lu directed a ten-piece orchestral ensemble with stylistic excellence for the familiar arias and vocal ensembles.


The roar of a Harley heralds the entrance of leather-clad Queen of the Night (Ingrid Fomison-Nurse) C.E.O. of currencies and commodities company Night Inc., as three formally attired highly-motivated P.A’s jab frantically on their iphones (Claire Barton, Beth Goulstone and Julia Moss-Pearson). Papageno the Company Birdcatcher is played by Tyler Neumann, whose delightful antics produce much humour as the plot leads him to find true love with Poppy Gainer (Alexandra Clearwater).


Sophie Sparrow plays Pamina with confident vocal strength matching the more experienced singer James Adams, who as Tamino Prince sets out on holiday, but ultimately falls in love with Pamina – initially through her photo on a tablet!  There’s a selfie, encounters with Girl Guides and Community members, but eventually he finds Pamina in the environmentally conscious Community of Isis and Osiris, led by Sarastro (Robert Lindsay) and security officer Monostatos (Ben Madden).


Brenda Rendall costumed with jeans, designer tops, business suits and heels, and plain monastic robing for Sarastro and his “community of greenies.”  The young cast, mainly from University of Otago alumni and current students, displayed vocal prowess, dramatic interpretations and professionalism which are a credit to their tutors.  With English diction and great music this unique operatic experience deserves a season of full houses.”

Magic Flute 2nd night
The Magic Flute Team…who do you recognise?!


A Man’s Guide to Backstage Preparation

As someone who adores the stage you may think I’m the right ‘guy’ to tell you how to prepare for it. However in all honesty the things I do before going into the spotlight maybe aren’t the most productive. That being said, my main piece of advice would always be to do what works for you – every performer is different and every performance is different. Similarly the way you prepare for this show is always going to be somewhat different from the last, because that’s the beauty of the arts – it’s never static. So find your ‘zen’ – take whatever route you need to, to get yourself physically and mentally prepared to bring the roof of the house down.

A few ideas that may help:

1) Visualisation – a weird but good way to prepare yourself and your memory, you may look a little odd in the wings deeply breathing with your eyes shut, but imagining yourself doing your thing on stage prepares your mind to do it for real.

2) Physical warm ups – even if you’re only singing, remember that it’s not just your voice that needs warming up, now I’m not talking a 1500m sprint around the theatre halls or anything, but limber up your muscles and stretch out that diaphragm.

3) Don’t over think it! Whilst it’s good to read/sing over your bits or practice your cues, don’t freak yourself out – before going on stage you want to be a bit nervous but you don’t want to be panicking…this will happen if you start overthinking and working yourself into a state. Believe me when that curtain goes up you will remember your stuff and you will break a leg – just trust yourself and relax, take a deep breath and SMASH IT!


Post by Alex Lee, Third Priest/Orator

Two more performances to go! Wednesday 17th June and Friday 19th June

The Sounds of Backstage: Beth Goulstone turns up the volume for us

In the dressing room

“Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!”

“Does anyone have a bobby pin?”

“Remember to sign in when you enter the theatre!”


Welcome to the weird and wonderful sounds of the pre-show dressing room: vocal warm-ups, greetings, reminders, and more warm-ups. Constant doors and footsteps, as people rush to check costumes, set props, look for that water bottle that has to be around here somewhere. There’s lots of chatter- sometimes nervous, often hilarious – always excited.

1st and 2nd Ladies, Beth Goulstone (left) and Julia Moss-Pearson (right)
1st and 2nd Ladies…or Charlie’s Angels?

The orchestra can be heard warming up in the pit – the cast goes through hair and makeup right next door in the assembly area. During the interval, it will be stocked with tea and coffee, and maybe even cake (thanks Papageno)!

“Overture and beginners!” That’s the call – time to head on up, treading as quietly as possible on the concrete steps. Once backstage it’s whispers only, as noise from the wings will distract from the world we’re creating on stage. We can hear the audience talking and laughing as they settle into their seats. It’s fun to know that people are out there, and to wonder ‘was that my mum?’

As the house lights dim, all of the noise dies down and finally there is silence. These last quiet moments are always a good time to take a deep breath and ready yourself, or (if you’re me) to grin around excitedly at everyone you can see. The wait always seems unbearably long – we just want to get out there!

And then all of a sudden the silence is broken. We hear the first bars of the overture, and whisssk the curtain is rising, and we step out of the wings and into the world of The Magic Flute – Tamino, get ready for the fright of your life!

Clockwise from centre: Beth Goulstone (Second Lady), Nikita Crosby (Second Guide), Calla Knudson-Hollebon (Third Guide), Robert Lindsay (Sarastro), Alexandra Clearwater (Papagena) and Julia Moss-Pearson (First Lady)

Photos courtesy of Beth Goulstone.

Post by Beth Goulstone, Second Lady 


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