The Bone Feeder
The Bone Feeder is a new NZ opera premiering in the 2017 Festival scored by alumnus and Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Gareth Farr with libretto by alumna, poet, playwright, and University of Auckland Society Executive Committee member Renee Liang, directed by alumna Sara Brodie and performed by alumnus Te Oti Rakena in one of the starring roles.
The Bone Feeder is the story of a young New Zealand Chinese man, who is searching for his roots, and is guided by a magical cicada and Māori Ferryman. He crosses to 'the other side', where ghosts reveal secrets of love, loss and betrayal. His attempt to uncover his ancestor's bones disturbs the earth and, ultimately, threatens his life.
The Bone Feeder is inspired by the story of the SS Ventnor, which, in 1902, set out carrying the bones of nearly 500 Chinese men who had died in New Zealand. Tragically, the ship never made it – The Ventnor hit a rock off the Taranaki coast and eventually sank off the Hokianga Heads. Far from family and in a watery grave, there would be no-one to tend to the men’s needs in the afterlife.
However, the bones were recovered and respectfully buried by the people of Mitimiti and the Hokianga, ultimately giving them a home on New Zealand shores.
The Bone Feeder moves between two worlds - contemporary New Zealand and the afterlife, and is grounded in the experiences of early Chinese settlers and their interactions with Pākehā and Māori.
Conducted by the accomplished Peter Scholes, the opera takes Gareth Farr’s unique combination of Western, Māori and Chinese instruments to create a sweeping, beautiful and playful piece of music sung in English, Māori and Cantonese.
The cast includes Jaewoo Kim and Henry Choo, both from Australia, alongside Te Oti Rakena (BMus) in the lead roles. They are supported by Xing Xing (former PwC Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist) and alumna Chelsea Dolman (BMus (Hons)) (former Freemasons Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artist); a group of miners, performed by alumnus Clinton Fung (BMus (Hons)), William King and David Hwang; and the female chorus of Sarah Court, alumna Dilys Fong (BMus/BSc), alumna Helen Kim (BMus) and Kararaina Walker.
The exceptional line up of instrumentalists includes NZTrio’s Justine Cormack (Violin) and Ashley Brown (Cello), Taonga Puoro specialist James Webster, Rebecca Celebuski on Marimba and, on traditional Chinese instruments, Dr Nicholas Ng on Erhu from Australia, Julian Renlong Wong on dizi and Chinese New Zealand Guzheng player Xi Yao Chen.
A story rarely told in New Zealand, this Auckland Arts Festival 2017 highlight is a very special work created by some of the country’s most outstanding opera-makers.
Read the NZ Herald article about the opera.