Brass Poppies may be a chamber opera, but its 70 minutes achieved the vision and the resonances that one might not find in a piece twice its length.

The ultimate strength of this thought-provoking production, mounted through the combined faith of New Zealand Opera and the country's two major arts festivals, lies in the special partnership of its creators: Vincent O'Sullivan and Ross Harris.

O'Sullivan's crisply-fashioned libretto tells of four Wellington soldiers killed at Gallipoli within the context of their lives in New Zealand.

The ironies inherent to this slice of history are richly explored. There is humour yet there is also t tragedy.


Throughout, words and music put death alongside day-to-day domesticity in Wellington with their partners; O'Sullivan is at his most grim and trenchantly anti-war whenAndrew Glover's character goads the soldiers about to die.

Ross Harris has just the compositional armoury required, whether providing sdance music for a lusty Saturday night knees-up or setting his singers in wry waltz-time. He knows the value of laconic asides, yet writes an aria for Anna Leese that is so moving one wished that there could have been much more.

An onstage and uniformed instrumental ensemble, conducted by Hamish McKeich, provided a background with discretion and sophistication.

The third component in the success of Brass Poppies must be director Jonathan Alver. His scrupulous attention to detail in marshalling his forces was always evident, placing exemplary singers and band against four suspended panels that screened still images and video footage.

Two dancers, brilliantly choreographed by Maaka Pepene, were an integral force throughout, spurring the men on to fight in the powerful Chunuk Bair sequence.

What: Brass Poppies

Where: Mercury Theatre

When: Friday