Remarkable backdrop for opera

OK, here’s a good question.

Just what are the magic potions that have fashioned Queenstown’s annual Garden Opera into a ‘don’t miss in your lifetime’ event?

The February 11 event at the Stalker home’s Springpointer Garden is the fourth by the Arrowtown Creative Arts Society (ACAS) — and the second at this venue.

And I don’t doubt it will be as stirring as its predecessors.

Townships are inclined to wallow in their own exceptionalism, and ours is no different.

So, to be honest, does anything about Queenstown’s garden opera make it different to the world’s more famous ones?

Actually, yes, and in bigger ways than you may be aware.

Bass-baritone Joel Amosa

The obvious first is we live in a place so drop-dead beautiful even the air tastes better.

And, thus, while Sydney’s outdoor opera-goers look across Farm Cove to Jorn Utzon’s astonishing Opera House, we gaze through the music to God’s amazing Remarkables.

And our ‘star choice’ is done differently.

ACAS co-produces the event with Auckland Opera Studio, which provides the stars, plus a programme that mixes classic opera with ‘big voice’ popular.

The Studio’s mission is handpicking the choice of opera’s young talent, funding extra training, and putting them on stages that advance their careers.

Tenor Ridge Ponini

‘‘Queenstown gets the particular excitement of witnessing new stars on the verge of something bigger,’’ the Studio’s Stephen Fitzgerald says.

‘‘And the singers love being chosen for it — the atmosphere relaxes them, and suddenly they find an extra level in themselves and their voices.’’

Next, 4 of the 7 signed are Kiwi Pacific Islanders — tenors Ridge Ponini and Taylor Wallbank, Joel Amosa (bass-baritone) and Alfred Fonoti-Fuimaono (baritone).

They signal something fresh New Zealand is bringing to opera.

America gave us black Gospel music, while Kiwi Pasifika church music is a distinctive genre, too.

‘Born to sing’: Taylor Wallbank

‘‘They’ve grown up singing several big music services each Sunday,’’ Fitzgerald says.

‘‘It’s a singing world which prepares them better than most Europeans or Māori for the big step-up to opera.’’

The foursome are joined by sopranos Rhiannon Cooper and Katherine Winatana, while South Korea-born NZ pianist Somi Kim returns as accompanist, and Amelia Berry, the encore queen of past Garden Operas, is back from Europe.

Garden Opera, sponsored by Walker & Co Realty, February 11, Springpointer Garden, 70 Lower Shotover Rd, gates open 5pm for 6pm start; BYO picnic, site-delivered hampers available from Arctic Kitchen website; tickets $90 ($80 for ACAS members) from Arrowtown Pharmacy or under ‘events’

John Lapsley’s an ACAS committee member

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