1998 Music

Outrageous Fortune


Opera in 2 acts for kuia, soprano, 2 mezzo-sopranos, 2 high baritones, 8 smaller roles also doubling as chorus, and 15-piece ensemble

Libretto by Christine Johnston

Outrageous Fortune was commissioned, with funding from Creative New Zealand, by Otago Commemorative Opera Group, Te Atamira Whakamaumahara, to commemorate the sesquicentenary of the founding of the city of Dunedin and the province of Otago in 1848. The first performance was given on 29 September 1998 at the Trust Bank Theatre, Dunedin, conducted by Michael Joel.

About the work

The action is set on the Otago goldfields in 1862, and weaves together fictionalised dramatisations of true stories of Māori, European pakeha and Chinese living on the goldfields. Each act lasts for approximately 65 minutes.


The cast consists of 16 singers:

  • Rona, soprano
  • Marama, traditional chant and karanga
  • Rani, high baritone
  • Hoani, high baritone
  • Bess, mezzo
  • Maryann, mezzo
  • Rosie, soprano
  • Lily, mezzo
  • Daisy, mezzo
  • Charlie/Mick, tenor
  • Timmy, tenor
  • Tommy, baritone
  • Paddy, bass
  • Joe, baritone
  • 2 Chinese male singers

The first 6 roles are soloists, 4 of which are Māori. The remainder are primarily ensemble singers, although they have substantial solo work at times.


The opera is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, piano, percussion, 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos, double bass and taonga pūoro (2 players).

In the Dunedin production, 2 dancers were included, as well as an on-stage fiddler. The role of the fiddler, depending on the distance between the stage and the orchestra pit, can be undertaken by a player from the ensemble.

Scores and recordings

The score, parts and a recording of the first performance are available from SOUNZ.

Outrageous Fortune — SOUNZ

Outrageous Fortune — CD


Suzanne Court and Jenny McLeod wrote articles for Music in New Zealand after the premiere.

Music in New Zealand No. 34 — publication


Outrageous Fortune won the 1999 SOUNZ Contemporary Award. Critic William Dart described the work as ‘a rich score, very much the fruit of Whitehead’s openness.’ He presented her with the 1999 SOUNZ Contemporary Award at the APRA Awards.

SOUNZ Contemporary Award


Works with taonga pūoro, Voice and instrumental ensemble, Collaborations

For narrator, cello, piano and taonga pūoro

Text by Tungia Baker translated into Māori by Wena Tait

Ipu exists in recorded form only and was performed by Richard Nunns (taonga pūoru), Tungia Baker (narration), Judy Bailey (piano) and Georg Pedersen (cello).

About the work

Ipu tells in te reo Māori Tungia Baker’s story — reminiscent of the old teaching stories. It tells of of Waka, a canoe and Kowhai, an elegant yellow-flowered tree that grows on the Tararuas. Their mutual friend, Tui acts as a go -between, telling the Waka of Kowhai and Kowhai of Waka. Then one day, there is a great storm, which changes everything.

There are 4 sections:

  • Waka, Kowhai and Tui
  • Waka’s Love for Kowhai
  • The Storm, and
  • Aftermath.


The taonga pūoro and piano parts are improvised to guidelines in the score, and the cello part is notated.

The taonga pūoro include: ipu, pahū pounamu, kōauau rākau maire, panguru, hue puruhau, poi āwhiowhio, ua roria rau karamu, pūtōrino rākaumatai, kōuaua ponga ihu, kōauau kōiwi kurī, kōauau kōiwi toroa, tumutumu, pūpū harakeke, porotiti, pūrerehua kōhatu pounamu, pukaea rakau manuka and karanga manu.


Buy or borrow the CD from SOUNZ.

Ipu — CD

Buy a digital version of the album from SOUNZ or Bandcamp.

Ipu — Bandcamp