Viva Verdi!

School of Music (NZSM) is marking the 200th anniversary of Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi’s birth by presenting a full-scale, four performance season of Il Corsaro.

It will be the New Zealand premiere of the threeact opera—a tale of pirates and plunder, flame and blood, true love and impatient passion. Set in the time of the Ottoman Empire, it follows the adventures of Corrado, a pirate captain, as he battles the Turkish Pasha Seid and attempts to set free a harem of slaves.

NZSM postgraduate student Thomas Atkins, one of the leads in the production, says that matters are complicated further when Seid’s favourite concubine, Gulnara, falls in love with the heroic pirate, who in turn has left behind his true love Medora in order to fight.

"The opera ends with a beautiful trio sung between Gulnara, Medora and Corrado—it’s stunning and a wonderful example of Verdi’s genius.”

To be performed in late July in Wellington’s Opera House, Il Corsaro comprises an all-student cast and the NZSM orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young. Direction is provided by Sara Brodie who also led the acclaimed NZSM Opera productions of Handel’s Semele in 2009 and Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2011—also a New Zealand premiere.

The lead roles will be double cast—Thomas will share the role of Corrado with fellow tenor Oliver Sewell. His fellow leads include sopranos Daniela-Rosa Cepeda and Elisabeth Harris (as Medora), Isabella Moore and Christina Orgias (as Gulnara) and baritones Christian Thurston and Fredi Jones (as Seid).

“Putting together a full opera season is an intense but rewarding experience,” says Thomas. “It’s great to be able to work with friends as we have all grown together through the School and benefited so much from the expertise of our teachers—all internationally experienced performers themselves.”

For Thomas, the performance is also a swansong to his time at NZSM. He leaves the country in September to take up a scholarship in Opera Studies at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, following his prizewinning performance at the IFAC Australian Singing Competition finals in 2012.

Thomas says while Il Corsaro is not as wellknown as Verdi’s Rigoletto or La Traviata, his distinctive style can be heard in this score. “I think the audience will leave humming the tunes—it’s very accessible with an action-filled storyline and great music. You don’t need to be a big opera buff to enjoy this production.”