For two nights next week, Epsom becomes the operatic heart of our city. Opera Factory brings its Off-Broadway double bill to the Raye Freedman Arts Centre, pairing Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti.

Thanks to champion Sally Sloman, Opera Factory has for decades provided young singers with a platform and experience. Next week's season offers "a venue that's easy to find, very comfortable and well-appointed, with all 250 seats having a good viewpoint".

Sloman is proud to be part of Auckland's burgeoning operatic scene.

"When Opera Factory started there was nothing at all for the young singers," she says. "Now they are so busy our rehearsals have to fit around their schedules, which is fantastic."

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Local stars in next week's Gianni Schicchi include Filipe Manu and Madison Nonoa who, after their Lexus Song Quest successes in July, have taken the first two prizes in the Te Awamutu Aria Competition.

Gianni Schicchi is a brilliant black comedy, in which a rapacious family waits for the demise of old Gianni, played by Hamilton baritone Jarvis Dams. Nonoa provides that magic moment when, as the young daughter, Lauretta, she sings O mio babbino caro.

"These singers are not just chorus members, but 15 soloists in an ensemble piece," Sloman explains. "Cues are crucial. It's quick-fire stuff, not so different, at times, to what you might have heard in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. The players don't only have to know their own part but everyone else's as well."

One minute Sloman talks of a promising young Rossini tenor in the cast and next she's advising young sopranos to explore the mezzo range, "for more parts and the chance to develop their registers". One cannot but marvel at the blend of wisdom and experience she is giving them.

Leonard Bernstein's 1952 Trouble in Tahiti is an adventurous choice of repertoire, showing a struggling domestic relationship between Dinah, played by Kayla Collingwood (last seen leading the spirits in NZ Opera's The Magic Flute) and Sam, played by the experienced Andrew Conley who has recently returned to New Zealand after working in Britain.

"It's one funky piece," Sloman laughs. "The other three singers form a jazz trio who narrate the story and, along the way, move the scenery."

While Opera Factory is in Epsom rehearsing its lively double bill, today the Holy Trinity
Cathedral launches its Bishop Selwyn Chapel as a performance venue. First up, Forwards and Backwards, a programme of flute and harpsichord music by Sally and James Tibbles.
Afternoon tea 2pm, wine and nibbles 6pm.

What: Opera Factory, Off-Broadway double bill
Where & when: Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Silver Road, Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm.