Entertainment | Opera

Classic Greek tragedy opera revived with Māori, Pacific twist

NZ Opera is reinvigorating a 261-year-old Greek myth opera to feature Māori and Pacific Island influences in a co-production with dance group Black Grace.

The (m)Orpheus production uses the original music by German composer Christoph Gluck (for Orpheus and Eurydice) but reimagined by New Zealand composer Gareth Farr. The notes are identical to the original score but different instruments (some that didn’t even exist in Gluck’s day) are used, changing the entire atmosphere of the production.

Blending rich Pasifika storytelling with the themes of Greek tragedy, (m)Orpheus tells a story of a man willing to risk everything for love but unable to find love in himself. Set in a dislocated future, where Pacific ceremony and traditions are still honoured, Orpheus struggles to come to terms with the loss of his wife. The gods agree to let Orpheus rescue his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld, but there is a catch. To be together again, he must lead her out without turning to look back at her, or she will be lost from him forever.

Orpheus is played by Samoan baritone Samson Setu and Eurydice by soprano Deborah Wai Kapohe (Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Rua) and Amor by Madison Nonoa ( Samoan, Niuean and Pākehā heritage)

Te Ohorere Williams (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pukenga), who has one of the soprano roles in the production says she wakes up with singing on her mind and is still in disbelief that her passion is now her career.

“It feels like a dream almost where the dream is still going. Every day getting to wake up and do this as a job, working Monday through to Saturday singing. It makes me feel so excited...”

Twenty-five-year-old Williams holds a masters graduate in classical performance from Auckland University.

“I think because we’re incorporating so much of what we know through dance, through the production aspect, and especially with Black Grace Dance Company and seeing an all Māori and Pasifika cast I think regardless of the music composed 261 years ago, Gluck was amazing in his time but we’ve recreated it for our communities.”

When she isn’t singing or teaching, Williams is a mentor for Māori and Pacific students at Auckland University. She encourages those who may have the potential to become opera singers like herself.

“If you truly know in yourself where your voice comes from, who is it going to and if it makes you feel incredibly good from your head to your toes and it’s something you can’t stop thinking about... go hard.”

Black Grace & NZ Opera’s co-production of (m)Orpheus will be at ASB Waterfront Theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau from September 6-10 and at The Opera House, Pōneke from September 20-23.