Opera can be an acquired taste but opening it up to those who might approach it with trepidation is the ethos behind Wanderlust Opera.
Founded in 2013, Wanderlust was a joint venture between classically trained singer Georgia Jamieson Emms and well-regarded opera director Jacqueline Coats.
They have toured modified operas around regional New Zealand since then, visiting the likes of the Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay and New Plymouth. They are finishing up their latest season of Don Pasquale in Wellington early next month.
“It’s on our shoulders for towns like Masterton… to get a dose of opera once in a while,” she says. “It’s medicine for the soul… chicken soup for the soul!”
Georgia, who spent five years living and working as a professional singer in Germany, translates the opera into English to make it more accessible. “It’s about singing in vernacular so audiences… have a sense of ease and comfort,” she says. “They can follow the story and get the jokes as they happen, and I think that’s been a huge selling point for us.”
But sometimes it can be hard to get just the right translated word. She works with the Wanderlust singers – mainly friends who have performed with her over the years – to ensure it’s easy to sing and is understandable. “I try and keep it light and funny. Comedy is something I’m good at,” she says. “I like rhyming and you can always have a great gag at the end of a line and it will get a laugh.”
And she often includes “oddball references” to today’s world. In Don Pasquale there’s a reference to Donald Trump. “It’s a comedy, so we can get away with so much more… and the audience accepts it’s bonkers!” she says.
Small sets and small casts also make it easy to take operas to small towns. Don Pasquale has just four performers. The set is currently stored in Georgia’s garage. There’s no orchestra, instead recently retired New Zealand Opera repetiteur Bruce Greenfield provides the musical accompaniment on the piano. “It sounds like an orchestra, you don’t miss having all the instruments,” she says.
Ticket prices are also affordable, and often Wanderlust invites local school children to performances for free. “Why not have all these kids come along and see opera for the first time?” she says. “I also go into schools to meet drama…or music classes. They can ask questions and by the time they come [to the opera] they have background knowledge and it’s an amazing experience.”
In 2020 the company is looking to head to the South Island, after travelling through the North Island extensively in 2019.
Wanderlust Opera’s Don Pasquale is on at Wellington’s Gryphon Theatre between Thursday 5 December and Sunday 8 December.