New Zealand School of Music Opera

Story by Marcus Jackson

New Zealand School of Music, 2017


Every second year, Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) is treated to an opera, produced in-house and featuring the best talent in the Classical Voice Performance department.

Alongside the Voice students, the NZSM Orchestra is employed, as well as set designers, stage crew, and costumes: the full works.

The tremendous effort asked of all involved is not simply for the sake of the audience however: staging an opera provides valuable lessons for each and every Voice student involved.

“One has come to expect a high standard of performance, interpretation and artistic creativity from students at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music,” writes Peter Mechen in his review of the 2015 offering.

Well known in the Wellington community, the NZSM operatic productions are keenly awaited by students and audiences alike.

Previous Productions

One of a Kind

As far as senior lecturer Jenny Wollerman is aware, NZSM is the only place in New Zealand right now where you can get a formal training in opera as an undergraduate student.

This is what sets NZSM apart: the ability to gain critical industry skills without having to go through postgraduate study.

Jenny was instrumental in setting up the Opera courses, choosing to include both academic and practical elements in the programme that a Classical Voice student undertakes.

When asked about her favourite operas from the School, Jenny points to two in the history of NZSM Opera: Il Corsaro in 2013, and 2011’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many students who performed in these operas went on to international careers - a testament to the value of operatic education.

You Don't Just 'Sing'

Performing is more than simply singing a tune along with some words you memorised with your teacher. Students undergo a range of activities, teaching them how to amplify the sound of their voices with their bodies, learning how to keep a good sound while moving around.

In no way ‘cookie-cutter’, Voice students' time at Victoria is spent learning how to make the best of their bodies, and this is before they even think about putting on a character.

Embodiment in opera was the topic of Dr. Margaret Medlyn’s PhD. Head of Voice, Margaret’s work focuses on the creative affordabilities of the performer in opera: that the performer becomes the third creator in the opera, alongside the composer and the librettist (person who writes the text).

Opera is inherently a creative act, as each person on stage needs to create his or her character, and that character needs to be believable.

Embodiment in Opera

  • Embodiment in opera

Sowing the Seeds

For many students, performing in an NZSM opera is their first time taking on a whole role, perhaps even their first time performing under such intense conditions.

Being a part of the opera gives them a chance to grow into what it takes to perform on the international stage: how to take critique, how to craft a character, how to rehearse, and how to overcome the fear of performance.

The Opera programme at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music is, for many students, their first step into an illustrious career, be that in opera, musical theatre, or academia.


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