Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2016. What a year!

In 2016 the NZ Opera School had great pleasure in welcoming Dame Kiri to the School. Dame Kiri spent four days with us viewing the work in progress, giving a public masterclass and a public interview of her life an international singer. She was also interviewed on the stage of the Prince Edward Auditorium by long-time friend and international opera singer Rodney Macann. Dame Kiri also attended the:
Great Opera Moments 2016
in the Royal Wanganui Opera House and the accompanying cocktail and post-performance celebrations and taking pleasure in presenting the Dame Sister Mary Scholarship award to Eliza Boom. This was the third time the Scholarship had been awarded to a student from the School.

An early rise for her on the final day and I saw her on her way from our airport to Auckland for an interview with Maori TV then straight on to the airport for a flight to London.

All in all the School was most successful.

Good to hear that the Positive Pipe Organ I obtained for the Westmere Presbyterian Church was now installed and playing. Well done to Garth Stevenson for completing installation the job. I was invited to ‘have a look during the School and was amazed to find on arrival the entire compliment of the Kirk Session assembled to hear the first playing. It sounded very good and nicely sweet-toned. We all gathered round and sang ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’. What a friend indeed!!

This organ started its life in the Seamen’s Mission in Wellington. It was then used for many years by a church in Lower Hutt before being acquired by the Rev Bruce Thompson of Auckland and stored for many years in the tower of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Karangahape Road in Auckland.

Bruce was looking for a home for it and when I raised Westmere with him he happily donated it. Thank you Bruce and thank you to David Bennett and a Whanganui relative of David’s with a big covered trailer and the chaps who helped form a chain to carry it piece by piece down the narrowest winding staircase I have ever seen.

Travelled back to Auckland and always good to be home following the intensive days at OS. Little did I know at this stage that this would be my last return journey to Auckland following the School after 22 years of making the ‘to and from’ journey.

2016 what a year. I guess the upheaval commenced with David Bennett suggesting that it was time I returned to live in Whanganui. That and a flyer in my West Tamaki letterbox offering to value my home of 36 years prompted action. I never thought the home would sell in 5 days. With a 17 year old Whanganui home in sight, offer made and accepted and it was all over so 5th May 2016 it all became a done deal and I was moving on the 6th. I never realised I had gathered SO much stuff over the years. Now is the time to reduce STUFF.

All the furniture, personal possessions, clothes, files masses of books, CDs etc etc  and three cars transported or driven to Whanganui.

And here is a portion of the new home:

Architect designed and beautifully built of permanent low maintenance materials (by retired farmers Allan and Valerie Allison) this place was not what I had in mind but, ‘hey’, at my time of life do I want to have the business of doing up a dwelling that needs a lot of attention (repairs, rotting timbers, refurbishing, painting etc) rather than focusing on more important artistic and community activities? Right choice I believe, we will see.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NZ Opera’s 2015 'La Cenerentola'

NZ Opera’s 2015 production of La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by Rossini was an absolute delight. Produced as a joint work between Opera Queensland and NZ Opera, directed by Lindy Hume – that splendid Australian Director, no stranger to NZ Opera – and designed by Dan Potra, with lighting by Matthew Marshall, this opera engaged and delighted audiences in both Auckland and Wellington.

NZ Opera's 2015 production of 'La Cenerentola'

Particularly delightful for our NZ audiences was the engagement of three New Zealand artists in principal roles: Cinderella: Sarah Castle, Tisbe: Rachelle Pike and Clorinda: Amelia Berry. Both Rachelle and Amelia are studying in New York and making great progress, as was evident in the great impact they made as the’uglies’.

As a footnote, Sally Sloman of Opera Factory fame has been searching her archives and sent me the photo below. The Perkel Opera production of Cenerentola was particularly well  directed by former well-known actress, Alma Woods, and toured to many NZ centres, concluding with an Auckland season with orchestra conducted by Peter Walls. Sally sent me this ‘never seen before’ photo of Donald as the Prince’s adviser and Cenerentola supporter Alidoro, a lovely role which I really enjoyed.

Donald Trott in Perkel Opera's 'La Cenerentola'

Sunday, May 3, 2015


The New Zealand Opera School chapel service, 11th January 2015 in the Wanganui Collegiate School Chapel.

Opening Reflections
(written & delivered by Donald Trott)
A Service of Commemoration on the First World War.

With the event, on the 28th June 1914, nobody would have, could have, imagined that the assassination in Sarajevo of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie would have been the catalyst to bring about a devastating and shocking World War that took the lives of millions of servicemen and civilians and created misery in every country host to its awfulness.

As communities here in this far away British colony of little more than one million people slowly heard  of developments on the other side of the world, none could have had any notion of the horrors that awaited sons and husbands as they in their thousands answered the call.

And from every city and town, village and countryside they went. Duty, excitement, travel, comradeship were some of the attractions that were in the minds of all who went to serve but with, I am sure, a certain suppressed fear of the unknown terrors they were shortly to meet.

This historic chapel contains the names of hundreds of boys and masters who left our shores to fight in a war that I suspect they knew little about and never returned.

It is hard to image the intense grief felt throughout the New Zealand communities as news filtered through of the casualties in far flung fields and the dread of receiving a telegram delivered to the door

For those from this School, their memorial is recorded in this chapel and its beautiful pipe organ is dedicated to their memory and their names are engraved and remembered here as long as this place remains.

This is but one memorial of many in towns, cities and villages, honouring those who made a supreme sacrifice and who in the words of  Lawrence Binyon in his poem ‘For the Fallen’ so longingly puts it: 

They went with songs to the battle; they were young, straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, they fell with their faces to the foe’.  

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old, age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.’

Thus, through our music and readings this morning we can bear in our hearts and minds a great sacrifice that was made one hundred years ago by so many and pray that the world may never see the like again.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Honours Tie Ceremony at Wanganui Collegiate School

On the 4th July the Wanganui Collegiate School ‘family’ gave me a wonderfully memorable experience I shall never forget.

A notice from the School advised me that I was to be the recipient of an Honours Tie, an award that recognises significant contributions to the School and the Community.

I was deeply honoured and the day was to be cherished commencing with morning tea with the Headmaster, Chris Moller and his wife Isabel in the Head Masters home. Then we all retired to the Prince Edward Auditorium where 600 guests, including all the students were assembled to receive a small party including the Head Master, Dr Nicholas Grigsby (my sponsor) and the  Head Boy (Todd Innes) and  Girl (Alice Cook). The Head Master welcomed the gathering, the  Head Boy and Girl read the Citation and Dr Grigsby spoke eloquently (and generously) of the things I do (or have done) in my life. I responded.

Following these formalities the entire auditorium emptied while the Head Master and I waited back. We were then ushered out of the auditorium and onto the drive where all the students had assembled and performed a wonderful School Haka. It was both beautiful and spine tingling. Such energy and passion with a fine Maori student moving between the rows of students a giving the ‘calls’. Amazing! How could I possibly have deserved such a wonderful occasion. Bravo Collegiate School.

In the afternoon I adjudicated the House Music, another great experience.

Having members of my immediate family as guests was greatly appreciated; Roderick (Old Boy, Head Prefect, Captain of Rowing and Rugby), Alison, (Solway Old Girl) Matthew, (Old Boy, Hadfield, Quad Rower won secondary Schools tournament, First Fifteen last team to win the Quadrangular Tournament, president of the School Screen Printing Club), and Matthew’s daughter Fredrika).


Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Memorable Visit

During the 2014 New Zealand Opera School, the Wanganui Opera Week Committee organised a visit to the historic and beautiful Putiki Marae on the banks of the Whanganui River. The marae is hundreds of years old and dates from the earliest times of Maori habitation when this area was where upriver Maori landed and smoked their fishing hauls from across the bar of the river before heading upriver to the 'fighting pas' with their catches. We were afforded a full welcome with the traditional challenge, speeches and waiata (songs) from both sides. Elder John Maihi was our guide for the ceremony.

For me, it was a journey of memories, for 51 years earlier I went to the marae and knocked on the door of a wonderful kuia who lived in a house that front onto the grassed meeting area. I was greeted by a beautiful senior woman, immaculately attired, who asked me what I wanted. "I wondered if you, Mrs Takarangi, could teach me some haka?"

I explained that I had been appointed the Officer in Charge of 24 boys, selected from all over New Zealand as representatives of The Boys' Brigade to travel to Scotland to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Brigade in that country, and we needed something NZ to take to that event. Today, it seems ludicrous that a team of NZ Europeans should be taking Maori culture to the other side of the world.

Mrs Takarangi, with true Maori graciousness, agreed and for the next year I attended regular lessons. When she thought I was proficient enough, she took me to the kitchen to say goodbye to Mrs Ngatoa, a 93 year-old aunt who sat cross-legged on the floor weaving flax. Upon arrival for my lessons, I had always visited the kitchen and greeted Mrs Ngatoa, who spoke very little English. On this final occasion, she presented me with 25 woven flax head bands – one for each member of the contingent – and, for me, a woven flax kite, which I still have. (You can see it in my hands in the accompanying photo.) I went on to teach the haka to the boys during our journey to Scotland on the P&O ocean liner Canberra

The visit to the marae and the magnificent Maori church of St Paul, as well as the entertainment and the meal, made this an occasion to be remembered and cherished. Thank you Wanganui Opera Week for arranging this visit.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Introducing Jonathan Alver

Following Brian Wyness’ untimely death, I took on the role of Executive Chairman of the NZ Opera School and invited long-time associate and friend Jonathan Alver to replace me as Director. Jonathan accepted this role and experienced his first School fully in that role for the 20th Anniversary year and directed a wonderful 20th anniversary celebration entitled Opera on the River. New Zealand Opera School alumni, including Simon O’Neill (’94/’95 and ’96), gave an 800-strong audience a great night of opera arias and lighter works.

Jonathan Alver – Director 
Jonathan Alver has more than twenty five years of experience writing, directing and producing operatic, theatrical and screen work in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Europe and the United States.

After graduating in vocal studies (baritone) at the Royal Northern College of Music, Jonathan turned his attention to directing, with early UK productions including: Tosca, Boris Godunov, Madama Butterfly and Showboat at the London Palladium. In the late 90’s Jonathan became General Director of Opera New Zealand (subsequently NBR NZ Opera), directing Faust, Il Trovatore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Gianni Schicchi, The Spanish Hour, Macbeth, La Boheme, Falstaff and Aida. Lucia and Macbeth were subsequently sold to Los Angeles Opera and Minnesota Opera respectively, with Jonathan invited to the US to direct those productions. 

In 2002, Jonathan moved away from opera to form the theatrical production company Volcanic Island. Productions included: a New Zealand tours of Mum’s The Word and Then Comes Love, a UK tour of Being Victor Borge, and Jailhouse Rock - The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End.

In early 2007, after 20 years in opera and stage production, Jonathan returned to New Zealand to concentrate on screen production. He became a director on Shortland Street and Go Girls, with over 120 hours of screen time under his belt.  

From 2012, Jonathan has returned his focus to the stage, becoming the Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre Company with productions of Joseph, Pinocchio and Grease, and becoming Director of the NZ Opera School. Other recent projects include: director for Annabel Langbein Live at the Frankfurt Bookfair, joint creative director of the Wynyard Christmas Quarter, and producing and directing three productions for the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival. He also has a number of film treatments and screenplays in development.