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