Auckland Arts Festival: The Bone Feeder, an opera grounded in the experiences of early Chinese settlers and their interactions with Pākehā and Māori

The upcoming Auckland Arts Festival, which will run from 8 to 26 March, will feature the world première of a new New Zealand opera, The Bone Feeder. Staged from March 23 to 25, the opera is scored by Gareth Farr with libretto by poet and playwright Renee Liang, that explores the mysteries, traumas and gifts of migration, home and belonging.

The Bone Feeder is inspired by the story of the SS Ventnor, which, in 1902, set out carrying the bones of nearly 500 Chinese men who had died in New Zealand. Tragically, the ship never made it. The Ventnor hit a rock off the Taranaki coast and eventually sank off the Hokianga Heads. However, the bones ultimately found a home on New Zealand shores, when they were recovered by the people of Mitimiti and respectfully buried.

  "...This is a story rarely told in New Zealand, is grounded in the experiences of early Chinese settlers and their interactions with Pākehā and Māori..."

The Bone Feeder moves between two worlds - contemporary New Zealand and the afterlife, and is grounded in the experiences of early Chinese settlers and their interactions with Pākehā and Māori. A young New Zealand Chinese man searching for his roots is guided by a magical cicada and Māori ferryman. He crosses to 'the other side', where ghosts reveal secrets of love, loss and betrayal. His attempt to uncover his ancestor's bones disturbs the earth and, ultimately, threatens his life.

Directed by Sara Brodie and conducted by Peter Scholes, the opera takes Gareth Farr’s unique combination of Western, Māori and Chinese instruments to create a sweeping, beautiful and playful piece of music sung in English, Māori and Cantonese. Meanwhile, the instrumentalists includes NZTrio’s Justine Cormack (Violin) and Ashley Brown (Cello), Taonga Puoro specialist James Webster, Rebecca Celebuski on Marimba and, on traditional Chinese instruments, Dr Nicholas Ng on Erhu from Australia, Julian Renlong Wong on dizi and Chinese New Zealand Guzheng player Xi Yao Chen.