For more than 20 years, Opera Factory rented premises in various small warehouse theatres on the Epsom side of Newmarket with Sally Sloman proudly describing her company's productions as the Auckland equivalent of "Off Broadway".

And what productions they were, ranging from fully professional presentations of Menotti's The Consul and Britten's The Turn of the Screw to ingeniously devised smaller-scale events giving invaluable training and experience to young singers.

This weekend sees the second of Opera Factory's "Winning Workshops," performing scenes from five short scores from its recent Chamber Opera Competition Contest.

Sloman remembers getting together with Christchurch composer Philip Norman to create the first competition in 2012.


"We'd enjoyed putting on Philip's own works at Opera Factory and were keen to include more local music, but my research just brought up scores that were incredibly large and unwieldy and not possible with our limited resources."

The two winning works in 2012 went on to receive full theatrical productions at Opera Factory. Love Thy Neighbour, a witty tale of rivalry over the garden fence written by 17-year-old Callum Blackmore, proved to be a total delight.

Sloman sighs as she remembers "the fun we had creating Callum's stylised world and one day I'd love to do this charming piece again and take it out into the countryside and suburbs".

Ulla (Elizabeth Mandeno) and Binnacle (Alysia Han) in Ulla's Odyssey. Photo / Michael Smith
Ulla (Elizabeth Mandeno) and Binnacle (Alysia Han) in Ulla's Odyssey. Photo / Michael Smith

That year's other winning entry, Anthony Young's Ulla's Odyssey, went on to have an award-winning London production in 2014 and here Sloman recalls the "marvellous" Elizabeth Mandeno, a soprano with the musicianship to cope with the demanding role.

Norman has been very much a force behind choosing the five operas for this weekend, but Sloman also appreciates the expertise of pianist Rosemary Barnes and NZ Opera's General Director, Stuart Maunder.

"Stuart was so enthusiastic," she says. "He took such an interest in the project, even with NZ Opera being in the final stages of rehearsal for Ross Harris' Brass Poppies."

13 Apr, 2016 12:30pm
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15 Apr, 2016 11:30am
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Sloman describes her main role on the judging panel as checking practicalities and asking that most important question of "Could we?" She was most impressed with John Drummond's winning entry, The Illustrious Stranger.

Not only did it have a New Zealand subject (the 1869 Christchurch visit of the Duke of Edinburgh) but it was ready to go "from the first page, as John is a very experienced operatic composer, with a number of productions to his credit."

She gently sings a few lines from Drummond's closing quintet that's delivered to the audience, and then transports me to the here-and-now of K Rd to introduce Claire Scholes' Live Drag.

The 2016 Chamber Opera Composition Contest judges: Stuart Maunder, Philip Norman, Rosemary Barnes and Sally Sloman with pianist Grace Francis.
The 2016 Chamber Opera Composition Contest judges: Stuart Maunder, Philip Norman, Rosemary Barnes and Sally Sloman with pianist Grace Francis.

"It's fantastic," she enthuses. "Claire's written a semi-fictional drag cabaret based on the late Peter Taylor. With a cast of three female singers and three male drag queens who lip-sync, it was a challenge to cast."

There's more of the contemporary when a quartet of singers have to deal with a rebellious PC in Graham Parsons' The Computer Desk, but the two remaining finalists look back to the past.

Ben Hoadley has tackled Katherine Mansfield's short story Miss Brill with soprano Emma Sloman portraying the heroine.

"It's got some rather lovely pathos," Sloman muses. "At the end Miss Brill looks at her fox fur and observes that life's been a bummer."

Finally, Richard Francis has turned to Oscar Wilde's fairy tale, The Remarkable Rocket and Sloman is thrilled that the workshop will contribute recordings towards the composer's current doctoral studies at the University of Auckland.

In the meantime, NZ Opera's Technical Centre is the place to be this weekend if you want to experience a preview of what could be staple Kiwi operatic repertoire of the future.



Winning Workshops

Where and when:

NZ Opera Technical Centre, 107 Neilson St, Onehunga, today and tomorrow, 10.30am-4.30pm, with a final concert of excerpts tomorrow, 5.30pm