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Story: Opera and musical theatre

New Zealanders have thrilled to the grandeur of opera and the exuberance of musical theatre since colonial times. Tales of triumph, failure and struggle have played out off-stage as well as on – but these art forms endure.

Story by Lindis Taylor
Main image: New Zealand Opera Company's 1965 production of Porgy and Bess

Story Summary

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Professional opera

New Zealanders enjoyed opera from the 1860s when international companies toured the country, performing major works by composers such as Donizetti, Verdi and Wagner.

From the 1870s many towns and cities had their own amateur operatic societies. These groups performed both light and serious works.

Singer Donald Munro started The New Zealand Opera Company in 1954, and it toured the country widely. From 1963 Arts Council funding allowed it to put on large productions employing almost entirely New Zealanders.

In 1971 the company closed. A second attempt at a national opera company was made in 1978, but it lasted just a few years.

After the New Zealand Opera Company folded, plenty of smaller, local companies sprang up. However, in the 2000s many declined or disappeared, partly due to a lack of funding.

Auckland Opera merged with Wellington City Opera in 2000 to become NBR New Zealand Opera. Later Canterbury Opera became a part of it. Some have seen this as a move back to a national touring model for professional opera.

Amateur opera

From the 1870s many towns and cities had their own amateur operatic societies. These groups performed both light and serious works.

Musical theatre boomed after the Second World War. The New Zealand Federation of Operatic Societies was formed in 1960. By 2013 it was called Musical Theatre New Zealand and had around 80 member groups.

Composers

New Zealanders composed a stream of locally successful light operas and musical plays through the 1920s and 1930s.

Local composition took off again in the 1950s. Dorothy Buchanan, Gillian Whitehead, Jack Body and Michael Williams were amongst the best-known composers of classical operas.

Singers

New Zealand opera singers have achieved international success since the 19th century. These celebrities include Īnia Te Wīata, Donald McIntyre, Kiri Te Kanawa and Malvina Major.

How to cite this page:

Lindis Taylor, 'Opera and musical theatre', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/opera-and-musical-theatre (accessed 25 March 2017)

Story by Lindis Taylor, published 22 Oct 2014