Opera: Lansdown Narropera to feature German opera singers

Two outstanding German singers will perform in this year’s Gala of German Opera, which is part of the annual Lansdown Narropera Festival held at 132 Old Tai Tapu Road between February 12 and March 26.

They include the soprano Dorothee Jansen, who is the wife of Christchurch’s Haydn Rawstron, who created the concept of narrating the story of an opera during the presentation of its most significant arias.

The great German baritone, Eike Wilm Schulte, is especially coming to New Zealand for the two Gala of German Opera performances, to be held on February 19 and 22, which will include arias and duets from the works of the German composers, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner.

Dorothee and Eike have sung together several times before, in Italy, France and Germany.

Dorothee married Haydn at Lansdown in 2000. She first met her husband-to-be in Europe, where he worked with the great opera houses and orchestras, managing the careers of international musical artists and conductors.

Since then, Dorothee has settled into their magnificent home at Lansdown, where the Narropera Festival is held, although she still spends much of each year performing in Europe.

“I used to spend most of my time at music festivals in Europe, and came back to New Zealand from June to August, when the European opera houses are closed. Now, I’m also here during the summer months, concentrating on Narropera,” says Dorothee.

“Haydn created Narropera after the earthquakes. At that time, there were no theatrical venues available in Christchurch, so we opened Narropera at our home. This will be our fourth festival here.

“We held our first one in Europe in July 2013, where it was very well accepted. Since then, we have also learnt how to make Narropera better and smoother.”

Dorothee says it took her some time to settle in this country.

“On the surface, it appears very similar to Europe, but it’s very different. Even after 16 years, it takes me at least a month to slow down after returning from Germany, where life is much more fast-paced,” says Dorothee.

“New Zealand is still a young country compared to Europe, so it does not have strong traditions. People from overseas miss those traditions.

“I miss the community feeling, although you get it in places like Tai Tapu, Lyttelton and Akaroa. People associate more with a shopping mall than a market square. New Zealanders are very friendly, but there are differences. Even Kiwi English is different.”

The Lansdown home needed extensive repairs and reconstruction after the earthquakes, so Dorothee designed a “very homely European kitchen.”

“We installed an AGA stove, which is on all the time in winter to heat our historic stone house, which has European decorations and layout,” she says.

“We have a German-style Christmas dinner on December 24 for family and friends, and on the 25th we are invited to a barbecue by a nephew.”

Under Haydn’s management, baritone Eike Wilm Schulte has already performed twice at the Christchurch Arts Festival.

Possessing the finest bel canto vocal technique of any German singer, Eike is considered the leading German baritone of the last generation.

He has performed in Wagner operas at the Bayreuth Festival, as well as major opera houses around the world, including the New York’s Metropolitan, London’s Covent Garden, Milan’s La Scala, Vienna’s Staatsopera, as well as in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Salzburg, etc. At the upcoming German Opera Gala, Eike and Dorothee will be accompanied by Terence Dennis, who will conjure up the appropriate pianistic background for the arias and duets from Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner operas. Of course, the most important part of this year’s Lansdown festival will be the revival the most successful Narropera to date, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, and the introduction of C.M. von Weber’s German masterpiece, Der Freischutz.

For both operas, the violin accompaniment will be presented by Jan van den Berg, while Haydn will present the narration and play the piano.

Located behind The Bicycle Thief (formerly the Rossendale Restaurant) at 132 Old Tai Tapu Road, between Halswell and Tai Tapu, Landsdown House has a three-acre heritage arborium, featuring exotic trees from all over the world, which will be open to festival patrons 90 minutes before each performance. Visitors are invited to bring a picnic to enjoy on the magnificent river-bound lawns before the performances.

Bookings can be made through the Court Theatre by phoning 963-0870 or contacting www.courttheatre.co.nz

- Hans Petrovic