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Opera North - News & Stories

The Phantom of the Opera

June 2019

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Eleven members of Opera North joined  the Whangarei Theatre Company's extremely successful production of  "The Phantom of the Opera". The production ran over three weeks in June and was enthusiastically received by critics and public alike.  

 Of the Opera North singers, leading roles were played by  Sarah Whittles as Carlotta Giudicelli, Rishi Iyer as Ubaldo Piangi, Debbie Graham as Mme Giry, Lillie Grandison as Meg Giry, Dean Scanlen as M Andre and  Ian Page as Me Lefevre & Don Atilio.





 Classics in the Cove Sunday 7th April 2019

This year's concert was held in the most glorious sunny weather and featured performances by Ridge Ponini, members of Opera North, the Dream Girls, Zena Finlayson, Katrina Poynter, Abby Franklin and Emer Lea.  Accompanists were Sean Scanlen, Mirabella Uphof, Delwyn Rusk, Margo Finlayson and Matthew Perry on drums.

Items from Opera were intermingled with those from Musical Theatre, Folk Songs, Samoa and Africa giving a very eclectic feel to the afternoon.  A most enjoyable concert, which is fast becoming an annual event.

 Ridge Ponini


 Opera North ladies and audience watching the concert

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David Lloyd Mandeno

24 March 1944 - 22 January 2019

It is with huge regret we record that Dave Mandeno, a stalwart member of the Opera North family since its inception, passed away on 22nd January 2019  after a short illness.

Not only was Dave a valued member of the Bass Section of Opera North, he also acted as our Treasurer and was an all-round good guy.

He was fittingly farewelled at a standing-room only service held at the Anglican Church, Regent, in Whangarei on Saturday 26th January 2019. 

Dave is greatly missed, not only by his own family, but also by the family of Opera North.

The photo above shows Dave with Joan Kennaway.

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Annie the Musical

November 2018

Several members of Opera North were involved with the Whangarei Theatre Company's production of "Annie" which was thoroughly enjoyed by young and old alike.

Emer Lea shared the title role of Annie, Debbie Graham played the role of Grace, Susan Alves, Ian Page and Rishi Iyer all played several roles and sang with the Company.

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North Haven Hospice Variety Show

24th October 2018

As the late Joan Kennaway spent her last days in the North Haven Hospice, her husband Rick wanted to help by presenting a Variety Concert to raise funds.

This was held at the Capitaine Bougainville Theatre Forum North on 24th October 2018, raising several thousand dollars.  Members of Opera North took part, together with Mirabella Uphof (Piano Performance), Brioso Corde (Classsical Music), Circool Circus & Basin City Big Band.


Northland Performing Arts Vocal Competitions

September 2018


Claudia Cooke (photo above) had a very successful competition, winning the Northland Senior Championship (Hosking Cup). In addition Claudia achieved 1st in Vocal Solo (Viti Levu Cup), 2nd for Operatic aria, 2nd for Classical song, 2nd for Folk song and 3rd for 20th Cenury Art song.

Emma Blood-Mouat & Samuel Parry won the Senior Duet. Emma also achieved 1st - folk/traditional, 1st vocal solo Australian/NZ composer, 1st 20th century art song, 1st operatic aria, 2nd sacred solo, 2nd song from light opera.


Will Trubshaw was joint winner of the Intermediate Vocal Championship, as well as gaining 2 Firsts, 1 Second & 2 Thirds.  Will also won the James Rice Scholarship woth $225.00 to help further his musical studies. Together with Amy Wallace he was placed 3rd in the Duet.

Jack Trubshaw unfortunately having trouble with his voice breaking, still managed to win a 3rd, 4th and 5th place.

Samuel Parry achieved 1st place - folk song, 2nd place vocal solo.





Joan's Tweeters won the Junior Vocal Group Class.

Laura Parry achieved 1st place - vocal solo, 3rd place sacred solo, folk song and song in costume.



The Mikado

Saturday/Sunday 1st/2nd September 2018

Members of Opera North played the majority of the principal roles in the Whangarei Choral Society's costumed concert version of "the Mikado" which was presented over the weekend of 1st & 2nd September 2018.

John Swinney was The Mikado, Tony Clemow was Nanki Poo, John Thompson was Pooh-Bah, Ian Couper was Pish-Tush, Susan Alves was Katisha, Lynne Snell was Yum Yum, Robin Johnson was Pitti-Sing and Heather Hayes was Peep-Bo.



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Jesus Christ Superstar

June 2018

 Members of Opera North performed in Whangarei Theatre Company's musical production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" which played to enthusiastic audiences and received very good reviews.

The musical was directed by Gayle Dowsett with the part of Mary Magdalene being played by Debbie Graham, Pontius Pilate by Alister Williams and Franco Meyer as Caiaphas, all members of Opera North. Several other members of Opera North were in the chorus.


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Because of Joan

16th June 2018

A joyous celebration of the life and legacy of Joan Kennaway took place in front of a packed-out Bougainville Theatre at Forum North in Whangarei.

The concert featured the greatest array of singers ever assembled on a stage in Northland as former pupils, such as Hayden Tee and Kawiti Waetford and special guest artist Helen Medlyn, delighted everyone by giving of their time and talent "because of Joan".
Interspersed between the songs were short narrations by people who had been important to her story.

The concert ended with everyone singing The Best of Times is Now, a musical number often used at the end of Opera North's concerts, epitomising Joan's concept of life.


Haydn's Mass in Time of War

5th May 2018

This concert, presented by the Whangarei Choral Society, included the Whangarei Brass Band, Kawiti Waetford and the Whangarei Youth Choir. Opera North members Emma Couper, Tracey Barnier-Willis and Tony Clemow joined Kawiti as soloists in Haydn's Mass conducted by Lisbe Jooste.

A packed Christ Church in Whangarei thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon which also included items by the Brass Band and the Youth Choir, duets and solos and concluded with the rousing The Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana.

Saturday 10th March 2018

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22nd Anniversary Opera in the Garden

On Saturday afternoon 10th March 2018 in a Glenbervie garden, more than 800 people saw a wonderful concert when Opera North and their guest artist, soprano Sophie Sparrow, entertained at the annual Opera in the Garden.

More than a little worry preceded this event. Firstly, Opera North’s beloved founder, musical director and conductor, Joan Kennaway QSM, had died a month beforehand after a long fight with cancer. Prior to her death, Joan had planned the concert in its entirety, the “Night and Day” theme, the music, the singers – everything. The first worry was whether the concert would become reality. Following an almighty effort from several backstage people and the entire company of singers, this was resolved.

The second worry, of course, was the weather. Following an extremely wet summer and with Cyclone Hola bearing down, the weather was a concern, but the ensuing fine day saw these concerns evaporate and the usual great audience appear. Did Joan have a finger in that too!

The concert opened with a spine-tingling vocal version of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra conducted by Lisbe Jooste, the conductor for the first half of the programme of operatic music. Highlights were Sophie’s stunning pink gown, her gorgeous performances of Vilia from The Merry Widow and Dvorak’s haunting Song to the Moon and also her Ach, ich Fuhls from The Magic Flute. Sophie was joined by Emma Couper who sang a splendidly malevolent Queen of the Night.

The second half of the programme saw Maria Satterfield take the baton for the lighter Musical Theatre numbers which opened with a beautiful medley of Gershwin music. This featured soloists, Rick Kennaway (at 80 still with that wonderful bass voice), Richard Johnston and Tracey Barnier-Willis. This half also featured Joan’s Tweeters, the junior group she set up seven years ago, Sophie’s Moonfall and On a Clear day.

As a surprise, Sophie was joined by Shaan Kloet (who as Shaan Antunovich was the 2014 guest artist) in Streisand’s Happy Days/Get Happy.



The wonderful afternoon closed with a Night and Day Medley arranged by music writer Simon Walter. Joan had commissioned Australian based New Zealander Simon, whom she had worked with many times previously, to construct a medley of songs based upon this theme. And what an amazing job he did.

The Opera North singers were accompanied by magical-fingered Clare Henderson and the gent whom compere Craig Robertson introduced as Lachie ‘The Cocky’ Mclean. Sophie was joined by Kamo High old boy and current University of Auckland official accompanist, Juan Kim.
So, from the welcoming speech by Mayor Cheryl Mai right through to the end as night followed day, the sun shone and the audience were supremely entertained. Joan would have been extremely pleased and very, very proud.