5 Dec 2022

Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with Karen O Leary

From Crescendo, 5:00 am on 5 December 2022

Karen O Leary was an early childhood teacher before a chance audition for Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows started her acting career.

“I had no idea what I was doing," she said, "So I was terrified. I just turned up. It was late at night because it was an all-night shoot in Miramar, which at least it was comforting because it was my home suburb. Then I just turned up, put on my police uniform and met (co-star) Mike Minogue for the first time.”

Headshots of NZSO flutist Bridget Douglas on the left and Actor Karen O'Leary on the right.

Photo: RNZ Richard Tindiller / Latitude Creative

The actor has since gone on to worldwide success in the spin-off tv series Wellington Paranormal. Her love of performance got started early, when she heard Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at home.

“I was in the lounge in Townsend Road in Miramar. And the record player was on this weird kind of brown shelf," O'Leary recalled, "And it was just a little record, you know, not really a big full size one. And we would just sit in the lounge, me and my two sisters, and Mum would put it on and we'd listen to it and think 'this is an amazing story' and 'what beautiful music', and then we would have to act it out.”

Karen O'Leary took on a couple of different roles in her early performances of Peter and the Wolf.

“Well, I quite liked the duck. I thought the duck was funny. But then I also quite liked being the guns. I remember thinking, and I think I talked to Mum about this when I was little, I said, 'Do you think if they didn't have to tell the story, would you know what was going on?' And I like to think that even if the words weren't there, I'd still know what was going on. Maybe if you just heard the words once, you wouldn't need the words anymore. Because the music tells the story.”

Bridget Douglas performing in NZSO

Bridget Douglas performing in NZSO Photo: Stephen A'Court

Peter and the Wolf was written for children of all ages to enjoy but as NZSO flutist Bridget Douglas explains, it is actually a demanding piece for each of the featured musicians to play.

“It's so challenging that it's often on audition lists to get entry into the orchestra," said Douglas, "So I had been practicing it for years as a student. It wasn't until I got my first my job here that we hit my first performance of it and I was sort of anxious about it. I really wanted to make sure that I didn't trip on the music and I also really wanted to bring the character alive. It’s not just about getting it right, it’s also about being inside the part, and also being a part of the story as well so that you get the character of the bird.”

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Crescendo is voiced by RNZ Concert’s Clarissa Dunn with sound mix by Marc Chesterman.  It was written and produced by Noelle McCarthy from an original concept by Bird of Paradise.

Photo: Bird Of Paradise Productions