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A night of Magic

2 Jun 2016

I am a little reluctant to admit this was my first opera. And I must say it certainly extended my cultural experience from my current reruns of Desperate Housewives. I discovered a night at the opera was just what I needed to pull me out of Wisteria Lane and into a world of drama, spectacle and sumptuous music provided by the New Zealand Opera and Orchestra Wellington. 

Mozart’s the magic flute is a singspiel, a popular form that includes both singing and dialogue. Not being an opera afficionado I was afraid I may need a crash course in Italian but was quite relieved to find this particular performance was delivered in English. In fact there were even subtitles flashed across the stalls for those times where you didn’t quite catch the lyrics or dialogue. This was not nearly as distracting as it might sound and I’m sure was appreciated by a great many people.

The opera is in two acts and the basic storyline follows our hero, Prince Tamino in his quest to rescue his beloved Pamina from the clutches of her evil mother, Queen of the Night.  There is drama, magic, theatre and splashes of comedy. The costumes, lighting, sets and props are spectacular and there are suprises in store in the way they have used the stage.

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The show was brought together under the direction of Sara Brodie and the orchestra conducted by Director of Music Wyn Davies. The core cast is made up of both international and local talent; New Zealander Emma Fraser plays love interest Pamina and New Zealander, Wade Kernot, the high priest sarastro. Tamino is played by American tenor Randall Bills and Australian, Samual Dundas, plays comedic bird-catcher, Papageno. Finally the dangerous Queen of the Night is played by British soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson.  Her performance was outstanding – the pinnacle of the opera for me was hearing her rendition of the “Queen of the Night" aria. Even I recognised that one!

The night I attended they played to a full house and a very receptive audience. Wellingtonians love the troupes that bring this kind of live entertainment to their city and they made their appreciation loudly heard and felt. The audience was wildly clapping after every beautifully delivered song.

Having been transported during this fabulous performance I was curious to know more about these incredibly talented actors and singers. Randall Bills who plays Tamino and Barbara Graham who is in the chorus graciously agreed to answer some questions I put to them.

Having been transported during this fabulous performance I was curious to know more about these incredibly talented actors and singers. Randall Bills who plays Tamino and Barbara Graham who is in the chorus graciously agreed to answer some questions I put to them.


E.K.  What do you do to wind down after a show?

R.B.  Usually after a show the cast will go out somewhere for a relaxing drink, perhaps even dinner.  If I have guests at the performances I’ll join them or if there’s nothing planned sometimes just going back to the hotel and chatting/texting with people “back home” is enough.

B.G.  If it's the last show for a while I have a glass of wine, or, if there is a show the next day I go home and have a sensible cup of tea.


E.K. How do Wellington audiences compare with the rest of the country?

R.B.  I know they’re going to be just as lovely as any place in New Zealand! Since we’re opening the magic flute here in wellington on the 28th it will be my first audience experience here.

B.G.  I am definitely biased, but Wellington audiences are the best. We don't get the same number of shows coming here as go to Auckland, particularly the international ones, so we're pretty appreciative, I think.


E.K.  Is the St James theatre a favourite venue to perform in?

R.B.  I’m sure it will be soon!

B.G.  It's high on the list - a beautiful theatre. Plus this will be my first show there since the foyer has been fancied-up, so I'm looking forward to relaxing there after a show.


E.K.  What are your favourite bars and eateries in Wellington? Any hidden treasures? 

R.B.  I was excited to discover flight coffee hangar which is close to our digs.  Also, had a great American comfort food meal at sweet mother’s kitchen with our Papageno Samuel Dundas just down the street from the St. James.

B.G.  I'm a big fan of Leafee on Tinakori rd - amazing Japanese food at night and brunch with a Japanese twist during the day. I go there embarrassingly often...there's some of the best coffee in town near where I work - a little place called green land cafe on Kate Sheppard place...and Poquito is a cozy, intimate bar on lower Tory St, if, like me, you like your bars a bit more laid-back.


E.K.  If you had one day to spend in Wellington, what would you do? 

R.B.  It’s very touristy I’m sure, but I’d love to go ride the cable car, I haven’t had time to do so yet.

B.G.  I would spend it at home - there's nothing like coming home after being away rehearsing for a few weeks. I'm pretty sure my husband and cats like having me at home, too.


E.K.  What is your own musical taste? Do you listen to any music that might surprise people?

R.B.  I like a lot of musical styles: being a musician in Los Angeles, before moving to Germany, we were often doing many different choral, opera, and popular music events all in the same day! If I’m listening to music in my spare time it’s usually renaissance polyphony (I don’t know if that’s surprising at all?)

B.G.  Well I rarely listen to classical music... but I do like music I can sing along to - indie, soul, rock, jazz...


E.K.  What do you do on your days off?

R.B.  Shop for food (not kidding), do laundry, go to the gym, maybe play some video games, very normal things.

B.G.  My what now?


E.K.  What do you do between jobs?

R.B.  Singing in operatic performance has been “full time” work for me since 2006.  I would say in-between rehearsal periods there’s lots of different things to do in preparation for the next show/rehearsal period, or just managing different areas of your personal and professional life.  Having the time to visit friends and colleagues in different parts of the world "in-between" jobs is a great bonus.

B.G.  I concurrently work for a Wellington publisher, Bridget Williams books, so there's no such thing as 'between jobs' for me!


E.K.  How long have you been doing opera? or performing generally?

R.B.  I’ve been singing opera since college, 17 years now!

B.G.  Since I was very small - I grew up with it and always  performing to be part of my life. And I'm lucky enough to live in a city where I can have both a performing life and a personal life (often mutually exclusive)!

I strongly recommend you go along and enjoy this spectacular evening at the St James. If, like me, you are a novice operagoer you may find yourself a convert and at the beginning of a lifelong romance.



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