Two men looking at the Porgy and Bess poster.

Porgy and Bess

Take an audio tour with Paul Diamond one of the curators of Pūkana. Paul shares stories and highlights from the exhibition.

One thing is certain: neither opera, nor Maori entertainment is ever likely to be the same in New Zealand after Porgy and Bess — Auckland Star, 25 February 1965

Listen to Paul Diamond talk about ‘Porgy and Bess’ in Pūkana

  • Transcript — Porgy and Bess

    Inia Te Wiata is a very good segue to one of the last parts of the exhibition, which is celebrating a production of the Gershwin opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. This was performed in New Zealand in 1965, and it toured around the country. It also went on to tour in Australia.

    And it's really significant, because it was the first time that the Gershwin estate had allowed ‘Porgy and Bess’ to be performed by anyone other than a black American cast, because part of the will of the Gershwins was that it could only ever be performed by black Americans. But the trust, the estate, agreed that it could be performed by Māori. So Inia Te Wiata who was based in London came back to New Zealand, and three American soloists came out because they really weren't sure that there were enough Māori singers who could handle the, sort of, quite demanding tour that they were doing, sometimes multiple performances each day.

    And so the whole of the chorus was Māori. They went all around the country to find singers, and we have – there was unfortunately no recording of this production, which is incredibly sad. There is, though, a set of images taken by a man called John Ashton, who was contracted by the New Zealand Opera Company, which commissioned this production to document the dress rehearsals in Wellington. So we have one of the images – we actually of a slideshow with a selection of images – but we've got a beautiful print of one of the images.

    And it's during the storm scene in the opera where there is a – because the opera’s set in the sort of South of America which is susceptible to storms – and a lot of the men in the village go out fishing, and there's a cyclone. And while there's a cyclone, there was actually an early revolving set. The house revolved around. And so you could see all the people from the village sheltering in this woman's house.

    So what's interesting in that is there's a group of people sheltering from the storm. There's Inia Te Wiata and Martha Flowers who played Bess sitting on the ground. But amongst the Māori that you can see in the image are Māori that we've featured in 'Pūkana'. So standing behind Inia is George Henare, who, at that time, was a teenager. He was at Teachers College, and as a result of this production he decided to give up training to be a teacher and actually became an actor, not staying with opera.

    Beside Inia, sort of, by the, sort of, sheltering from the storm again is a woman called Hannah Tatana, who, major discovery for us, famous contralto singer training at the same time as Kiri Te Kanawa but five years older than her. Standing beside Hannah Tatana is a woman called Isabel Cowan who was an extraordinary soprano singer. So what happened as a result of this production was that the whole kind of growth of Māori theater that we're also celebrating in 'Pūkana', happened.

    And Inia's wife, Beryl, has written that he was determined that Māori should have this opportunity to show that they could do more than singing and concert parties and kapa haka and playing the guitar. And Hannah Tatana has said that as a result of this production, things like radio drama, Māori involved in opera, Māori theater, all these things sort of happened. So that's why we've got ‘Porgy and Bess’ so prominently acknowledged in 'Pūkana'.

    We've got the poster. There's a beautiful poster that people can see online from the original posters in the exhibition. And then in a case in the section, are some of the projects that followed on from ‘Porgy and Bess’ and they're to do with translations of Shakespeare that were done by an amazing Māori scholar and leader, Pei Te Hurinui Jones, who translated ‘The Merchant of Venice’, 'Te tangata whai rawa o Weneti', and Don Selwyn who was in ‘Porgy and Bess’ and went on to become an actor, knew that Pei had done these translations in the 1940s, and they'd sort of – he published them himself – he actually couldn't get the money for them to be properly published.

    Don knew that that translation was there, and he led the production of the film 'Te tangata whai rawa o Weneti', 'The Māori Merchant of Venice', which was a hugely successful film which also followed a staged production that Don led as well.

    And then also in the case we've got a couple of images by a young Māori photographer, Te Rawhitiroa Bosch, who recorded another production, not – of a translation – not by Pei Jones but by a woman called Te Haumihiata Mason of ‘Troilus and Cressida’. And this was led by Rawiri Paratene and went on to be performed at the Globe Theater in London after it toured here.

    What also struck us was that some of the people in this production as a result of being together have gone on to form the Modern Māori Quartet. And it sort of made me think, well, this is just like ‘Porgy and Bess’. Māori get together for one kaupapa, and then other things come out of it.

    Any errors with the transcript, let us know and we will fix them: digital-services@dia.govt.nz

  • Transcript — Porgy and Bess

    Inia Te Wiata is a very good segue to one of the last parts of the exhibition, which is celebrating a production of the Gershwin opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. This was performed in New Zealand in 1965, and it toured around the country. It also went on to tour in Australia.

    And it's really significant, because it was the first time that the Gershwin estate had allowed ‘Porgy and Bess’ to be performed by anyone other than a black American cast, because part of the will of the Gershwins was that it could only ever be performed by black Americans. But the trust, the estate, agreed that it could be performed by Māori. So Inia Te Wiata who was based in London came back to New Zealand, and three American soloists came out because they really weren't sure that there were enough Māori singers who could handle the, sort of, quite demanding tour that they were doing, sometimes multiple performances each day.

    And so the whole of the chorus was Māori. They went all around the country to find singers, and we have – there was unfortunately no recording of this production, which is incredibly sad. There is, though, a set of images taken by a man called John Ashton, who was contracted by the New Zealand Opera Company, which commissioned this production to document the dress rehearsals in Wellington. So we have one of the images – we actually of a slideshow with a selection of images – but we've got a beautiful print of one of the images.

    And it's during the storm scene in the opera where there is a – because the opera’s set in the sort of South of America which is susceptible to storms – and a lot of the men in the village go out fishing, and there's a cyclone. And while there's a cyclone, there was actually an early revolving set. The house revolved around. And so you could see all the people from the village sheltering in this woman's house.

    So what's interesting in that is there's a group of people sheltering from the storm. There's Inia Te Wiata and Martha Flowers who played Bess sitting on the ground. But amongst the Māori that you can see in the image are Māori that we've featured in 'Pūkana'. So standing behind Inia is George Henare, who, at that time, was a teenager. He was at Teachers College, and as a result of this production he decided to give up training to be a teacher and actually became an actor, not staying with opera.

    Beside Inia, sort of, by the, sort of, sheltering from the storm again is a woman called Hannah Tatana, who, major discovery for us, famous contralto singer training at the same time as Kiri Te Kanawa but five years older than her. Standing beside Hannah Tatana is a woman called Isabel Cowan who was an extraordinary soprano singer. So what happened as a result of this production was that the whole kind of growth of Māori theater that we're also celebrating in 'Pūkana', happened.

    And Inia's wife, Beryl, has written that he was determined that Māori should have this opportunity to show that they could do more than singing and concert parties and kapa haka and playing the guitar. And Hannah Tatana has said that as a result of this production, things like radio drama, Māori involved in opera, Māori theater, all these things sort of happened. So that's why we've got ‘Porgy and Bess’ so prominently acknowledged in 'Pūkana'.

    We've got the poster. There's a beautiful poster that people can see online from the original posters in the exhibition. And then in a case in the section, are some of the projects that followed on from ‘Porgy and Bess’ and they're to do with translations of Shakespeare that were done by an amazing Māori scholar and leader, Pei Te Hurinui Jones, who translated ‘The Merchant of Venice’, 'Te tangata whai rawa o Weneti', and Don Selwyn who was in ‘Porgy and Bess’ and went on to become an actor, knew that Pei had done these translations in the 1940s, and they'd sort of – he published them himself – he actually couldn't get the money for them to be properly published.

    Don knew that that translation was there, and he led the production of the film 'Te tangata whai rawa o Weneti', 'The Māori Merchant of Venice', which was a hugely successful film which also followed a staged production that Don led as well.

    And then also in the case we've got a couple of images by a young Māori photographer, Te Rawhitiroa Bosch, who recorded another production, not – of a translation – not by Pei Jones but by a woman called Te Haumihiata Mason of ‘Troilus and Cressida’. And this was led by Rawiri Paratene and went on to be performed at the Globe Theater in London after it toured here.

    What also struck us was that some of the people in this production as a result of being together have gone on to form the Modern Māori Quartet. And it sort of made me think, well, this is just like ‘Porgy and Bess’. Māori get together for one kaupapa, and then other things come out of it.

    Any errors with the transcript, let us know and we will fix them: digital-services@dia.govt.nz

Discover more from the exhibition

Porgy and Bess

Kātahi anō ka whakaaetia e te Gershwin Estate kia tū ētahi atu iwi, ehara i te mangumangu nō Amerika, ki te atamira ki te waiata i te puoro whakaari nei, ko te mahinga o Porgy and Bess e te Kamupene Puoro Whakaari o Aotearoa i te tau 1965 te tuatahi. He mangumangu Merikana, he Māori hoki te tira kaiwhakaari.

Kei roto i te tira ko te kaiwaiata reo nguru a Inia te Wiata (Ngāti Raukawa), i whakahokia mai rā e ngā kaiwhakahaere i Rānana kia uru ki te whakakitenga.

Koinā te whakakitenga utu-nui rawa, tokomaha rawa ōna kaimātakitaki kua whakaputaina e taua kamupene. I puta āna kaimahi ki ngā tōpito katoa o Aotearoa ki te whiriwhiri i ētahi Māori 300 hei mema mō te tira kaiwhakaari me te ope waiata. I kōpikopiko te whakakitenga i ngā tāone o Aotearoa me Ahitereiria.

Nā ‘Porgy and Bess’ ka whānau mai te Māori Theatre Trust, i puta ai ētahi hua maha mō te putanga ki te ao o ngā whakaari Māori. Nā konei hoki ka piki ngā pūmanawa o ngā kaimahi toi me ngā kaiwhakakite ki te taki pūrākau Māori ki te ao.

Porgy and Bess

The production of ‘Porgy and Bess’ mounted by the New Zealand Opera Company in 1965, with a black American and Māori cast, was the first time the Gershwin Estate had allowed the opera to be sung by people other than black Americans.

The cast included celebrated bass singer Inia te Wiata (Ngāti Raukawa), who was brought back from London to do the show.

It was the most expensive and most highly attended production then staged by the company, which had travelled around New Zealand to audition around 300 Māori for cast and chorus members. The show toured both New Zealand and Australia.

‘Porgy and Bess’ led to the Māori Theatre Trust, which played a major role in the emergence of Māori theatre. It strengthened the capacity of Māori artists and performers to tell Māori stories.

Group of scared looking people sitting on and at the bottom of a staircase.
Illustration of a man and woman. Orange and white lettering on purple background.

Feature image at top of page: Paul Diamond, Curator Māori and Chris Szekely, Chief Librarian Alexander Turnbull Library, enjoying the Pūkana exhibtion.