7 Feb 2024

Ana Hato and Mario Lanza make a date on Valentine's Day

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 7 February 2024

The great American singer Mario Lanza never made it to Aotearoa, but imagine if he had.

Imagine if a storm had forced his plane to land in Rotorua, where he might have met one of New Zealand's early recording stars, Ana Hato. 

Well, of course, they'd put on a concert together, wouldn't they?

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Ana Hato, pioneering Māori recording star, with fellow singer, Oriwa Haddon. Photo: Courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library

That's the scenario dreamed up by singer, writer, producer and RNZ Concert host Siliga Sani Muliaumaseali'i, in his latest production The Mario LaNZa Valentines Fantasy, which combines Lanza songs like "Grenada" with Ana Hato's hits, including her version of "Pōkarekare Ana".

Muliaumaseali'i will play Lanza, Maisey Rika will play Ana Hato.

Speaking to fellow RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Muliaumaseali'i is busy preparing to put the show on stage at the Sir Howard Morrison Centre in Rotorua this coming Valentine's Day. 

Sani Muliaumaseali'i head and shoulders, arms crossed looking at camera.

Siliga Sani Muliaumaseali'i. Playing Mario Lanza. Photo: Matt Smith Photography

In Muliaumaseali'i's story, Lanza was flying home to be with his beloved on a Valentine's Day sometime back in the 1940s. Having been forced to land in Rotorua, he meets one of the leading lights of the local music scene, Ana Hato.

She's putting on a concert to raise money for the Maori Battalion. Her tenor star, cousin Deane Waretini, can't make it, so Lanza steps in.

"Then the plane gets fixed on the eve of the concert, and then we wonder; is he going to get on the plane to be with his love? Or will he stay in Rotorua and do the concert? That is what you have to find out!"

Framing the narrative around Valentine's Day seemed an obvious thing to do, but Muliamaseali'i also wanted to bring together the musical traditions of opera and kapa haka, engaging the talent of Te Arawa ensemble Te Kapa Haka o Ngāti Whakaue. 

"And build local culture, and build operatic culture, and build a narrative around that... just to see this empty space of "what if, what could be, what would happen". 

Some of Te Kapa Haka o Ngāti Whakaue have done music theatre though most of them haven't, but they've all got speaking roles and "they're all fantastic".

"They will sing the waiata and they get to sing some opera as well, which they've never done. I am humbled by their commitment with the voices and the talent from everyone. And Maisey Rika, making her debut as a theatre person, it is something to behold."

The opening season of Mario Lanza Valentines Fantasy is running for just two shows at the Sir Howard Morrison Centre on 14 February.

But Muliaumaseali'i plans to bring it back in October at Rotorua Airport (to mark the airport's 60th birthday) in an expanded production which will include Jackie Clarke playing the Samoan jazz singer, Mavis Rivers.

Might be worth booking a flight to Rotorua for that.

Maisey Rika

Maisey Rika, "something to behold" playing Ana Hato.  Photo: NZSO