Our second pick from the amazing Auckland Arts Festival programme is Brass Poppies - a ground-breaking new chamber opera from Ross Harris and Vincent O’Sullivan (Requiem for the Fallen) which brings powerfully to life how Gallipoli was a domestic New Zealand story as well as a military one.
Wives and families at home are as much to the fore as men in uniform at the front, in an innovative depiction of the 1915 battle of Chunuk Bair. Glory Days contributor Clarissa Dunn interviewed Jonathan Alver ahead of the Festival to find out the story behind Brass Poppies.
Jonathan Alver is the director of Brass Poppies, a new NZ opera by composer Ross Harris and librettist Vincent O’Sullivan. The opera promises a ‘fresh perspective’ on the First World War and will appear in the Auckland Arts Festival and the International Arts Festival, Wellington.
Jonathan has more than 25 years’ experience in theatrical, screen and major event production both in NZ and overseas. He’s been the General Director of Opera NZ, has directed episodes of Shortland Street and Go Girls, and more recently was in charge of the creative direction of the ICC Cricket World Cup Opening Ceremony in Christchurch.
1. Jonathan, what is the story of Brass Poppies?
On a very basic level Brass Poppies tells the story of the Wellington Regiment and their leader William Malone as together they face the traumatic events around the battle for Chunuk Bair. However, this is not a narrative commemoration, rather a series of imagined snapshots, demonstrating how the soldiers, wives and lovers might have felt in this situation.
2. How does this story suit opera?
Opera was not created to teach us history. Instead, the exquisite conjunction of music, stage and voice brings characters to life, connecting us directly to the human condition, to the hearts of the personalities before us, allowing us to share their thoughts and feelings. In Brass Poppies, Ross and Vincent have reflected on one of the darkest days in New Zealand history, but in so doing they have put flesh on the dry bones of some of the real and imagined personalities involved, literally giving them a voice.
3. Are the characters based on real people?
Yes and no. William Malone was indeed the Colonel of the regiment, but Vincent has brought him to life, and put words in his mouth, through his imagination. Malone’s wife is also a named character in the opera. The other people on stage all represent ordinary New Zealanders, forced to face up to a series of events no one could have imagined.
4. The centenary of the First World War inspired a huge artistic response. Brass Poppies is billed as offering a fresh perspective. What is that perspective?
From the inside! We invite the audience of Brass Poppies to step inside the personal experiences of the characters on stage, not through the filter of sepia photographs, but in the full colour of everyday life. What would those that died in the battle tell us? Most importantly to never let a similar situation happen again.
5. What effect has the music of Brass Poppies had on your direction of the opera?
As an opera director you have to start with the music. The words tell a story, but the music heightens and details the emotions. Ross has found a musical style for Brass Poppies that suggests the period, with interesting choice of instrumentation, but is also contemporary allowing us to engage as we would with a movie. My job is to add the visuals to the soundtrack – simple!
Brass Poppies will be performed in Wellington 3rd -6th March, 7:30pm at Shed 6 and in Auckland on the 11th and 12th March, 8pm at the Mercury Theatre.
Glory Days has a double pass to give away to the Auckland performance on Friday 11 March, 8pm. To enter the draw please fill your details in below before 8pm on Tuesday the 1st March.
On the eve of the Auckland Arts Festival, Glory Days sorts through the dizzying array of shows on offer to bring you interviews with our fabulous four picks, who answer five burning questions!
First up the inimitable post-post-modern diva MEOW MEOW'S unique brand of ‘kamikaze cabaret’ has hypnotised, inspired and terrified audiences globally. A sexy spectacle with just a little bit of punk, Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid is a decidedly un-Disney cabaret in which the golden - larynxed chanteuse raucously subverts Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid tale of teen self-sacrifice, salvation and seduction.
1. How does one end up becoming Meow Meow and living a cabaret life?
One doesn't become, one simply IS. I'm more a force of nature than anything! Unstoppable!
2. When did you decide to create this show and what was the inspiration for Little Mermaid?
The original Hans Christian Anderson tale (tail) from 1837 is so fascinating and still so resonant for a contemporary world - love and self sacrifice, choices and fate, seduction, siren songs, salvation, hard core reality and fantasy- what's not to love?
3. One of our favourite parts of cabaret is the costuming and the excuse cabaret gives to go all out! Could you please tell us about the costumes - who came up with the concepts, who designed them and how long did they take to create?
The brilliant Anna Cordingley is my designer - we had a huge amount of fun turning the traditional mermaid image on its head (sometimes literally)! The costumes are sexy and shiny and quite punk and at times just completely hilarious . And yes there are fishnets. She comes up with lots of designs and then we play In Rehearsal and refine them to their miraculous best!
Then a team of artists put them together - it's a great process and the costumes are "dramaturged" as much as the text. They are full of meaning - poignant and funny.
4. You have a veritable mix-tape of songs in Little Mermaid - which are your favourite three to perform and why?
As if I could choose three! Most of the songs are original commissions for this piece that I have written with my frequent collaborators Iain Grandage and "Thomas M Lauderdale from Pink Martini, and for me by three amazing girlfriend sirens in their own rights - Megan Washington, Kate Miller-heidke and Amanda Palmer. I love them all. They are my very special friends and they written for my soul.
5. Once the audience leaves your show what's the one thing you would like them to remember?
Image sourced from The Malthouse Theatre with thanks!
Glory Days have a double pass to give away to Meow Meow's Little Mermaid show on Wednesday 9 March, 7pm courtesy of Auckland Arts Festival.
To enter the draw, fill out your details below! Entries close Tuesday 1st March at 8pm.
On the eve of JD McPherson's debut gig Down Under, the former art teacher-turned-roots rocker tells Natasha Francois what Auckland can expect from their live show at the Tuning Fork on the 27th February.
Known for his classic sound rooted in rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, and rockabilly, Oklahoma-born rock ‘n’ roller JD McPherson is set to play a razor-sharp show in support of his latest highly acclaimed album, Let The Good Times Roll, backed by his long-time four-piece band featuring Jimmy Sutton on upright bass, Jason Smay on drums, Ray Jacildo on keys and Doug Corcoran on saxophone, guitar and keys.
What can our readers expect from your live show?
One hundred percent total physical commitment.
You've said before that you're not interested in making a time-machine record; you love to blend disparate stylistic shapes and textures so you're creating something new as well as paying homage to the past. Is that why you call your sound "50s psychedelic"?
Haha, the "50s Psychedelic" moniker came from a conversation Mark Neill and I had previous to the production of Let The Good Times Roll. We had these crazy notions that we could push all the earmarks of ‘50s recording (tape delay, overdrive, rotating speakers, plate reverb) to their top extremes. We went pretty far, but not as far as we originally joked. I also am not really interested in writing with themes centred in that time.
You’ve mentioned that you like to see the hand involved in the work: you want to hear the performance and the people behind the performance. Can you explain?
Sam Phillips once said that his work was "perfectly imperfect". There's a big difference in a song recorded with each member recorded separately, and a song recorded with people playing together. It's the same difference as receiving an email or a handwritten letter from a friend. Two different types of communication.
Although you use vintage gear and sounds and have a vintage aesthetic, it was 21st-century technologies like YouTube and social media that helped get your work out to a mass audience. Imagine if the internet had been around in Chuck Berry and Little Richard's day!
I almost believe that had that technology existed, it would have been harder to find the cool stuff. There were one or two avenues for a kid to discover cool music – TV shows, rock ’n’ roll movies, and word of mouth. Now there's such a saturation. I don't really spend a lot of time looking for cool music on the web, because there's so much to wade through.
To read more about JD McPherson buy yourself a copy of the TEXT issue and turn to page 16!
To catch JD McPherson live, get a ticket for their show at the Tuning Fork in Auckland on February 27th. Or better yet, win yourself a ticket by entering your details below before Sunday 21st February at 8pm!
This weekend is the Hamilton Gardens’ Mansfield Garden Party, and Glory Days' regular Fully Fashioned contributor, Leimomi Oakes, will be speaking on garden party fashions in Mansfield’s life at the Glory Days Garden Party Salon. Here she gives a preview of what she will be addressing in her presentation by telling us what they wore to garden parties in 1922.
The Hamilton Gardens have chosen to set the Mansfield Garden party in 1922, the year Mansfield’s story was published (it came out in early Feb, 1922 – and Mansfield had been living with Northern Hemisphere winters for the last 12+ years), rather than ca. 1907, which is when Mansfield was in Wellington, attending garden parties, and which is when I think the story is essentially set, based on the mentions of clothing.
Mansfield’s garden party may not have taken place in 1922, but the parties of The Great Gatsby did, and the early ’20s are certainly a fetching, and easy to wear, era for garden parties.
So what did people wear to garden parties in 1919-1922?
A hat and parasol are absolute must-haves. The fad for tanning wouldn’t happen until later in the 1920s, and the desired complexion in the ‘teens and early ’20s was still very pale – with defined rosy cheeks. To achieve pale, wide sunhats were worn. The modern cloche shape was just emerging, but always with a wide brim – it wouldn’t loose its brim until the mid 1920s.
1922 skirts were long – with hemlines still at the level they had been since 1916, skimming the lower calf. The mid-20s rise to just below the knee is still a few years away, and anything at or above the widest part of the calf was for girls under 13 only.
Fashion plates show slightly shorter lengths than most examples in photographs, indicating that most women, even the very fashionable, weren’t quite ready to show more than their ankles.
Garden parties frocks came in white, pastels, and white with touches of brighter shades, like the dress with cherries below. Favoured colours were coral, apricot, rose, citron, ‘a fascinating golden flame colour’, apple green, nile green, eu de nil, cerulean, and delicate shades of mauve & purple.
Frocks were always worn with stockings, either in delicate pastels to match the dress, skin tones, or white, in silk or liesl (for the young and sporty), and heeled shoes in light shades. A ca. 1920 silk stocking is much heavier than a modern nylon one – thicker tights give a closer period look.
The silhouette was very long, slightly rounder in a the lower half, rather than being a straight column, with a very slightly dropped waist (you can see how much the waist dropped between 1918 and 1921 by comparing the fashion plates above and below this one with the very first fashion plate). The dropped waist was often emphasised with a wide sash or narrow belt.
For women who didn’t find the slim silhouette flattering, one alternative was the robe de style inspired look, with full, romantic skirt:
“Circular skirts and irregular outlines are characteristic of the season” read a McCalls fashion pamphlet from May 1921, as the irregular hemline on this dress demonstrates.
As were frocks with hip emphasis:
And lots, and lots of lace, particularly in white and palest tans.
For accessories, long necklaces and gloves were popular up until 1919, but appear rarely in fashion plates and photographs showing garden party attire from 1920-1922.
We cannot wait to hear and see more from Leimomi when she takes the stage at the Glory Days Salon this Sunday 7th Feb from 11am - 1pm at the Hamilton Gardens Conference Centre.
Tickets are only $35 and include three expert speakers talking about various aspects of "The Garden Party", morning tea, a goodie bag and entry into a raffle draw to win an amazing Glory Days Hamper worth over $1000!
BUY YOUR TICKETS TO THE GLORY DAYS SALON HERE!
If that wasn't enough to convince you to attend, all ticket holders also go in the draw to win a beautiful hand crafted clutch bag from Estelle of Brighton (pictured below), modelled on the Penguin edition of The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield.