13 Mar 2012

Opera tells story of Whanganui river chief

7:10 pm on 13 March 2012

An opera based on the true story of a nineteenth century Whanganui river chief Hohepa Te Umuroa and his friendship with a Pakeha settler during the New Zealand land wars has its world premiere in Wellington this week.

Hohepa, which the NBR New Zealand Opera is staging with a cast of 17 of New Zealand's most renowned opera singers, opens on Thursday 15 March as part of the International Arts Festival.

Hohepa Te Umuroa's story is told from his birth in the 1820s, describes his capture in the Hutt Valley by colonial forces after being part of an attack on a local farmer and his time at a penal colony on Maria Island off the coast of Tasmania where he died from tuberculosis in July 1847.

In August 1988 six elders of Te Umuroa's Ngati Hau sub-tribe travelled to Tasmania to bring him back home. He was re-buried at Jerusalem beside the Whanganui River.

A contingent of Whanganui Maori attended Tuesday's rehearsal of the opera.