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Opera staged for the first time in Christchurch

10 August 2006

Opera staged for the first time in Christchurch

An operatic interpretation of a classic New Zealand novel will be staged for only the second time in New Zealand as part of the University of Canterbury's arts festival Platform.

The God Boy, composed by Canterbury alumnus Anthony Ritchie to a libretto by Jeremy Commons, is based on the 1957 novel by Ian Cross and was first performed in Dunedin in 2004. The opera, set in the 1930s, follows the sometimes dark childhood of Jimmy Sullivan as he struggles to cope with his parents' disintegrating marriage.

Directed by lecturer Elric Hooper and conducted by Associate Professor Martin Setchel, the Platform production has been cast almost exclusively with students studying in the University's voice programme under Dame Malvina Major. Among them are Andrew Grenon, who sings the central role of Jimmy Sullivan, and Sarah-Ann Walker and Rachelle Pike who were recently named PriceWaterhouseCoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists. Young performers from Westburn School in Ilam play the convent children with Isaac Pawson acting the role of Jimmy as a child.

Mr Hooper describes the production as "a modern expressionist opera" as Jimmy's story is told through a narrator but in the form of a dream.

"The novel is a famous example of the unreliable narrator technique, where the narrator knows less than the reader and that technique is very difficult to transfer onto the stage. So, what we've done is create something that looks like a dream in which Jimmy looks back on his life and the terrible events of his childhood."

The dream-like theme is emphasised by the abstract set design and the limited colour range of the costumes.

"All the costumes of the people in Jimmy's dream are unified by their appearing in tan or sepia. Jimmy, the dreamer, is dressed in the same colour as the set - blue and grey. He is the control figure so the audience gets to see that what's happening in front of them is Jimmy's imaginings," says Mr Hooper.

The God Boy will be performed on 16, 17 and 18 August, 7pm, in the Ngaio Marsh Theatre, Christchurch. Tickets are $35 (students $20) from Ticketek.


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