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Whitehead – Outrageous Fortune

Rona – Deborah Wai Kapohe
Marama – Tungia Baker
Rani – Te Oti Rakena
Hoani – Robert Wiremu
Bess – Judy Bellingham
Maryann – Ana Good
Conductor – Michael Joel

Taonga Puoru - Richard Nunns

Recorded at Dunedin Theatre, 1998
2 Acts, 2 CDs – 125 minutes
Otago Commemmorative Trust: Purchase from SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music

PO Box 10042, Wellington 6011; Phone: 64 4 801 8602; Fax: 64 4 801 8604
Email: info@sounz.org.nz

Gillian Whitehead’s opera Outrageous Fortune, an Otaga 150th Anniversary Commission, could be described as an historic recreation of the less than glamorous side of life during the New Zealand gold rush.  The hardships and deprivations endured by the miners, and more particularly their families, are depicted with stark accuracy.  The accompanying notes tell us that the intention of composer and librettist (Christine Johnston) was to produce something  “raunchy rather than high class”.

The opera also reflects the multi-ethnic mix of the population with both the Maori and Cantonese languages included in the libretto and 15 different Maori instruments (all played by Richard Nunns) appear in the orchestral ensemble.

The work was commissioned for and received its first performances at the Otago 150th Anniversary Festival when this live recording was made. The venture was backed by various charitable trusts.  The necessary budgetary constraints are evident and do no favours to the singers, whose words are too often lost. 

There are some gloriously lyrical sections for orchestra depicting the NZ landscape, which bring to mind the Sea Interludes in Peter Grimes. 

Over all the atmosphere seems to be one of unremitting gloom – and I could not help thinking that some contrasting episodes, leavening the mix, might have highlighted the tragedy.

The notes contain a detailed synopsis and translations of the Maori text.

Serena Fenwick

see also Musical Pointers' review of Gillian Whitehead's monodrama Hotspur

(She has built up a big reputation for some half dozen or more operas - list at http://sounz.org.nz/contributor/related/frbr_composite_works/1099?page=1)