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Thomas Kendall: Now, the Opera

Ric Carlyon - Sunday, October 12, 2014

There’s wide acclaim for This Other Eden, an opera based on the life and times of New Zealand’s first J.P. The work had its world premiere this week in Dunedin.

The score’s by Anthony Ritchie who says Kendall’s story,as one of New Zealand's first missionaries in 1814, provided ideal material for an opera. “He was an idealist, a visionary, excited about the maori world and its religions, thinking tangata whenua may have been the Lost Tribe of Israel", Ritchie told National Radio’s Standing Room Only.

Kendall’s story, originally written by Michelanne Forster in 1995, emerges in her adapted libretto told through the eyes of his wife, Jane. Both their affairs outside the marriage are revealed in the opera: hers with a convict while Kendall was in London, his with a Maori woman on his return.

Ritchie has woven Maori music into the performance, instrumentalists playing traditional taonga puoro, which, he says allows improvisation and provides approriate setting.

“Every aspect of This Other Eden is a delight, from the opera's libretto and score to Opera Otago's superb interpretation of this important new work,” says critic Brenda Harwood on N.Z. Theatre Review’s website. “This is New Zealand history as we have never seen it before, and is a brilliant addition to this country's opera tradition. Highly recommended.” 

The inaugural short season continues at Mayfair Theatre as part of Arts Festival, Dunedin.       

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