Festival Patrons Event
We recently celebrated our Festival Patrons for 2022 with an intimate event at Toitoi. The evening started with drinks and nibbles in the foyer. The guest for the evening was director John Wilkie who will be working with Festival Opera on The Cunning Little Vixen. John initially talked in the Foyer and then surprised guests by inviting them onto the Opera House stage to give insight into some of his directing process. It was a wonderful celebration of Patrons and the creative process. Further background to John and the Cunning Little Vixen follows below:
Internationally renowned Stage Director John Wilkie has been appointed as Principal Stage Director for Festival Opera following three years of successful collaboration and delivering to the organisation’s unique model of incorporating members of the youth music programmes Project Prima Volta and PPV Jnr into the staging of their productions.
Wilkie has recently returned from Europe to Hawke’s Bay for the fourth time to direct Festival Opera’s upcoming production of Leoš Janáček’s operatic fable The Cunning Little Vixen, part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival Taster Series in July/August. The opera is a favourite amongst performers, creatives and producers of opera for its dramatic score inspired by Czech music folk tradition, paired with comedic and philosophical elements, posing man’s complicated relationship with nature. When asked for his reasons for prioritising the role with Festival Opera over engagements amongst some of Europe’s most recognised opera companies, he notes ‘The Festival Opera model is unique. It offers the community a different take on the ways in which opera delivers value. By providing Project Prima Volta students the opportunity to experience a professional opera production, working with world-class singers, creatives and technical teams, they are introduced to a world which encourages them to express themselves without judgement, and to learn and be inspired by a host of supportive professional colleagues in a safe and nurturing environment. I have experienced first-hand the tangible impact of this company's unwavering dedication towards their mission of wellbeing through music, as they strive to enable and empower young artists to grow and develop as versatile and adaptable human beings.’
Wilkie brings to Aotearoa a wealth of experience from his directorial catalogue, with roles at the Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera and Opera Holland Park amongst his engagements. His 2019 production of Il segreto di Susanna for Opera Holland Park was nominated for Best Production at the International Opera Awards in 2020. Being appointed as Principal Stage Director brings a deeper connection to his belief in the power of the Arts to help address some of society’s pressing issues. ‘Festival Opera understands the bigger picture. It recognises that the art form of opera is a tool - it's not just about performing and the plaudits that (sometimes) come with it - the arts play a vital role in the development of our younger generation, helping them build on a range of social, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills. Festival Opera champions the notion that music empowers people of all ages and walks of life, and being involved in making art can counter poor mental health, isolation and loneliness.’
Wilkie recognises the importance of building resilience and developing a strong collaborative work ethic through arts experiences in his own journey. He cites being given the opportunity to direct a production of Puccini’s La Bohème at an early stage as a turning point in his decision to become a stage director. ‘Some University colleagues invited me to direct the production, and their belief in my ability was a huge driving force in me accepting the challenge. I had originally trained as an actor, but severe anxiety had limited my potential, and so I decided to take the plunge into directing. It was a rewarding and successful production given my lack of experience, and it taught me that Directors are really facilitators - we have an obligation to create a space where individuals and groups can explore and make mistakes without judgement, and be given the support and guidance to be the best storytellers they can be’. The early experience directing La Bohème and marrying together the many disciplines opera involves - singing, orchestration, acting, movement and design; led to the formation of a new Scottish opera company, fittingly called Opera Bohemia - of which Wilkie is a founding member.
With his feet back on the whenua of his loved ‘second home’ of Hawke’s Bay, Wilkie is looking forward to sharing more exciting operatic moments with audiences. He describes the experience - ‘On a personal note it’s so rewarding when it all comes together, but for audience members experiencing live opera performance feeds the soul and has proven wellbeing benefits - engaging with the escapism of opera can be hugely uplifting and invigorating, and being part of a team that delivers that for someone is just awesome.’