THE JUNIPER PASSION: ANZAC Day Launch
The ANZAC Day release of THE JUNIPER PASSION looks to be another moment of New Zealand music history in the making. Leading NZ composer Michael F Williams and librettist, John Davies, will unveil their latest work at Hamilton’s John Gallagher Concert Chamber, including the launch of the full three act multimedia recording by Atoll records. Choreography by Atamira Dance’s Artistic Director, Moss Paterson and 3D graphic visual sets by animation designer, Sean Castle will be a highlight on the evening. Almost four years in the making, this WWII opera in remembrance of our armed forces, has already received foreign interest and looks to be New Zealand’s first truly international opera.
Set in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, the events have special and deeper meaning for Mike and John and have involved personal journeys, reflection and growth. The libretto is dedicated to Richard Ferguson Davies, John’s father who fought in the 1944 battles, watching many friends fall. Like so many servicemen, he brought back the remnants of war that survived in the minds of many service men for the remainder of their lives and were passed on to their families. In a search for historical accuracy, Williams made his first reconnaissance trip to Monte Cassino in 2008 and en route met with eminent war historian and distinguished Waikato Alumni, Dr Chris Pugsley, at Sandhurst Military Academy. There he gained valuable historical insights about the battle, the bombing of the Abbey and its aftermath which were later translated into the musical retelling of the story, including electronic sound effects, chamber orchestra and even the new Auckland town hall organ.
Supported by the University of Waikato, Creative New Zealand and the Lilburn Trust, the opera explores themes of humanity, love, intrigue, betrayal and redemption. The overarching story of the battle is based on fact, but the characters are fictional. The lives of a Benedictine monk, a German officer and New Zealand soldier intersect with fatal and unforeseen consequences. While highlighting the futility and terrible waste of war Davies says that through its text and music The Juniper Passion aims to interrogate our differences which might lead us to an understanding of sameness. To see ourselves in the light of what we share, rather than what we hold separate is the purpose of this work.
Williams’ and Davies’ vision was always to present this work as a multi-media production, foregoing normal opera conventions of having the characters sing and act in favour of a choreographed dance piece with large video screens projecting 3-D graphic images both real and abstract. The vocalist’s acting roles are minimal and they are predominantly left to concentrate on singing.
Working closely with Davies, leading New Zealand choreographer Moss Patterson, Artistic Director of acclaimed dance company Atamira Dance, has choreographed the work with a troupe of twelve dancers from Unitec will participate in the 30 – 40 minutes of selected scenes being presented on ANZAC Day. The visuals used include photographs taken at Monte Cassino by John Davies’ father and 3D construction animations of the Benedictine abbey by Sean Castle.
Williams was adamant from the outset that a professional studio recording should be made before live performances were considered. Working closely with Atoll Records producer Wayne Laird a stellar cast of singers and instrumentalists was assembled and the recording and editing took place through most of 2011. Rising and established New Zealand opera names such as Julia Booth, David Griffiths, Pene Pati, James Loelu, Matt Landreth, lilia Carpenelli and Stephanie Acraman made up the cast of six plus chorus and the orchestra was conducted by Rachel Griffiths-Hughes with sound effects designed by Williams. Laird is widely regarded as New Zealand’s finest producer of classical and contemporary western art music and The Juniper Passion marks the 100th CD to be presented under the Atoll Label since 1997.
The performance is scheduled for 6pm at the John Gallagher Concert Chamber in Hamilton. It is open to the public and retired servicemen from the area have been specifically invited to attend through the local RSAs. If there are any readers that are related to servicemen who were present at the Battle of Monte Cassino, we would very much like to know of them and include them in this occasion.