What People Say – The Strangest of Angels

What People Say – The Strangest of Angels

Friday 27 May saw the world premiere of a new opera – The Strangest of Angels at The Piano in Christchurch. Co-composed by Kenneth Young with Anna Leese and libretto by Georgia Jamieson Emms, this new work marked our return to the stage in 2022 after much COVID disruption to our planned programme. Co-presented with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, this was an innovative and “profoundly thought-provoking operatic statement”.

Here is some of the feedback received:


“The on-stage performances are certainly convincing. Anna Leese as Baillie maintains a richly coloured vocal range and uses her stage presence to project a convincing character. The audience responds audibly to her ability to shift from authoritarian aloofness to sarcastic humour, and her attention to every nuance of the text is consistently fluid and detailed. It’s a performance that draws us in and earns our sympathy…The electrotherapy lighting effects of the set and Eleanor Bishop’s supportive direction are very effective and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra players respond with flair and commitment. Conductor (and composer) Kenneth Young’s ear for sonority and texture is realised with playing of impressive ensemble and, as I leave the theatre, I feel privileged to have witnessed the birth of this newest New Zealand opera, which features many moments to savour and even more for us to think about.”

“There comes a point – the interlude before the final scene of Kenneth Young’s new opera The Strangest of Angels – when, at last, the music sings and dances as the orchestra launches into a tango of distinctive originality and real personality.”

Tony Ryan, Stuff

“Both singers inhabit their roles brilliantly. Tankersley’s Frame is passive and thoughtful, a foil for her increasingly unbalanced nurse, while Leese develops and reveals Katherine’s complex, conflicted character through a series of anguished disclosures and odd behaviours. The full-blown “mad scene” in the third part of the opera, while shocking, seems also inevitable.”

“With Young on the podium, paying close attention to the details in his score, and principals of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in the pit, it was a fine performance. Both singers were outstanding; Leese, her strong, beautiful voice combining with passionate expression, was compelling throughout while Tankersley’s pure clarity of tone and gentler musicality were a perfect contrast.”

“Eleanor Bishop’s sure direction and the simple, eloquent design and lighting by Rachel Marlow and Bradley Gledhill brought the audience a profoundly thought-provoking operatic statement.”

“NZ Opera is challenging New Zealanders’ preconceptions about what opera is and can be, telling our own stories by commissioning new work at pace.  The Strangest of Angels has the expected operatic elements of passion and relationship, but we are far from the 19th century romantic story with a beautiful, tragic heroine inevitably dying in the end. The lavish sets and full-voiced well-costumed chorus are also nowhere in sight. These elements have not been abandoned by the company, who have scheduled Verdi’s Macbeth for later this year, but in an important strand of work NZ Opera is offering more intimate and no less intense operatic experiences in chamber-sized productions like this one.  Hats off to them!”

Elizabeth Kerr, Five Lines

Audience Feedback:

“From your introduction to the talk, to Eleanor Bishop’s terrific pre-concert talk and throughout the opera itself, I was engaged and excited.  At the end I felt a really great new work of art had been born… It’s a very cleverly and sensitively conceived and written work in my not so humble opinion!  Please pass on my congratulations to everyone involved especially the composer who has produced a gem”

“The social relevance of this opera is timely and important”

“Great to have a return to live events. Well done for mounting this production”

“I applaud the initiative to bring a production that is so relevant to our past to the audience”

“I thought it was excellent and particularly appreciated the pre-performance talk and programme notes in helping me to approach this new work informed”

“Thoroughly enjoyed my viewing of this opera! It was my first in person opera I’ve experienced… it was amazing”