Benjamin Henson is not your average opera director. The charming Brit is tackling opera for the first time in the form of Handel’s Oreste, opening this weekend at Auckland’s Mercury Theatre.
Presented by Auckland Opera Studio and NZ Barok Orchestra, Oreste is a fiery tale of sacrifice, danger and triumph. An Ancient Greek extravaganza, Saturday’s opening marks the product of a series of challenges for the director.
“I’ve had to find my own way through of how you direct an opera. It’s pretty crazy,” says Henson.
“I couldn’t read music until I started this project... [it’s] been quite a learning process.”
Director of Fractious Tash, Henson has driven multiple applauded plays, such as Q Theatre’s Earnest and Not Psycho, as well as The Pop-up Globe’s Titus. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Henson made his way to New Zealand six years ago with multiple years of youth theatre work and direction under his unconventional belt. For the last six months he has been involved in an internship called The Engine Room, involving Auckland Theatre Company, Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre and New Zealand Opera.
Oreste is a production that has led on this project, and is his first real “taste of opera”.
The show is a semi-stage, meaning it will feature a limited number of props and costumes for the cast of six combined fresh-faced and veteran lead singers.
“I’m really glad it’s semi-stage for my first one so I can cut my teeth on it. I think out of limitations comes exciting choices.”
Some of these choices include a cardboard set, as well as a split catwalk stage and mirroring screens. These aesthetic elements are Henson’s impact on Oreste – selections that will ideally leave an impression without “meddling with the music”.
“All the choices that we’ve made still honour that beautiful music and those singers.”
While no one can deny the beauty and tradition of opera, the director recognises it’s not the most accessible form of theatre. In fact, before this project, Henson says he thought of opera as almost “utterly inaccessible”.
Consequently, his bold leap into opera is what will hopefully make Oreste such an exciting show.
“I think [it’s going to be a success] because I’m going to make a show I want to see.”
Oreste plans to offer all the “value for money” of a traditional opera – live music and a grand story – alongside unique staging decisions and fresh approaches.
Oreste shows this weekend only and with tickets starting from $20 for students, is a perfect opportunity for a fancy night out for long-term opera goers and newbies alike.
More details are available here.