Premiere Season of The Bone Feeder Live Performance


NamePremiere Season of The Bone Feeder
Start Date23 March 2017
End Date26 March 2017
Organiser / VenueASB Waterfront Theatre
CompanyNew Zealand Opera
Composer(s)Gareth Farr
Director(s)Sara Brodie
Auckland Arts Festival 
Writer(s)Renee Liang
Auckland Arts Festival
New Zealand Opera
Key Cast
Jaewoo Kim (tenor)
Henry Choo (tenor)
Te Oti Rakena (baritone)
Xing Xing (soprano)
Chelsea Dolman (soprano)
Clinton Fung (soprano)
William King
David Hwang
Sarah Court
Dilys Fong
Helen Kim
Kararaina Walker

Julian Renlong Wong (dizi)
Nicholas Ng (erhu)
Xi Yao Chen (guzheng)
Justine Cormack (violin)
Ashley Brown (cello)
Rebecca Celebuski (marimba)
James Webster (taonga pūoro)
Creative Team
Conductor: Peter Scholes
Set Designer: John Verryt
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Designer: Jane Hakaraia
ArtformOpera, Theatre


Commissioned by Auckland Arts Festival for their 2017 programme, The Bone Feeder is an opera written by Renee Liang and composed by Gareth Farr. It follows a young Chinese New Zealander named Ben who is in the Hokianga searching for his ancestor, Kwan, whose remains were lost on the SS Ventnor when it sank. With the help of a local ferryman, he eventually finds his remains and puts him to rest.

The backdrop to the opera is the real-life sinking of the SS Ventnor in 1902, a ship that was carrying the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners home to Guangdong when it sank off the coast of the Hokianga Harbour. While some of the bones and coffins washed ashore — with local iwi taking care of the remains and burying them — many of the bodies remained lost.

Like the Festival’s previous presentation of The Mooncake and the Kūmara (2015), The Bone Feeder weaves together English, Māori and Cantonese — with this in turn mirrored by Farr’s composition which blends Western, Māori and Chinese instruments.

Reviews of the premiere season were largely positive, with NZ Herald’s William Dart describing it as “an extraordinary operatic experience” and Metro’s David Larsen commenting:

It's smart, it's sophisticated, it's richly multicultural in a way we ought to be able to find normal (but sadly can't), and every aspect of the set design and execution is excellent. Great singing, great playing. You will note however that I am avoiding the phrase ‘I enjoyed it’.

Theatrescenes critic Nathan Joe praised its “emotional depth and cultural nuance”, describing the world created by director Sara Brodie as “a dark and brooding place… a place at the edge of the world instead of a land of opportunity” while Simon Holden at Bachtrack commented on the importance and resonance of the story:

It shrewdly examines simultaneously what it meant to be a new migrant for the Chinese miners newly moved to New Zealand and what it means for their descendants to be Chinese New Zealanders… conceptually and dramatically, it was both moving and thought-provoking.

Length: 1 hour 20 mins (no interval)


Key works / presentations

Auckland Arts Festival
ASB Waterfront Theatre
23 — 26 March 2017

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Renee Liang, libretto for The Bone Feeder, 2016

[pdf ↓]

The Bone Feeder, 2017

The Bone Feeder, 2017

The Bone Feeder programme, 2017

[pdf ↓]