Kapa haka and opera combine for new music production

15 September 2016

Witi Ihimaera

Witi Ihimaera is leading a collaboration on a music drama depicting the history of the Waikato River.

Opera and kapa haka will come together in a new music drama from acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera in collaboration with Hamilton composer Janet Jennings, senior lecturer Tom Roa, and other University of Waikato staff and students.

'Flowing Water: A story of the Waikato River' tells the history of the Waikato River and all the peoples it has nurtured - Māori, Pākeha, and later migrants. 

Mr Ihimaera says he was inspired to write the music drama because the story is a "thrilling" one and ideal for development into a musical drama.

"The work has the potential to reflect, through one regional history, the history of New Zealand settlement itself," he says.

The work will open with a set piece involving taniwha awaiting the arrival of the Tainui canoe. When the canoe voyagers first felt the river while out at sea, they remarked on the "kato", the pull of the river's strong current. The Māori word 'Waikato' means literally "flowing water".

Mr Ihimaera says he is honoured the University's kapa haka group, Te Waiora o Te Whare Wānanga, will be taking part. 

"Tom Roa and the kapa haka group are ensuring that the work thoroughly integrates Tainui kawa, tikanga and history into the script, music and production."

One scene of the performance has already been written and will be performed at the Gallagher Academy of Performing arts this month. Other artists involved in preparing this scene for performance include Senior Fellow in Music Dame Malvina Major, lecturers in music James Tennant and Rachael Griffith-Hughes, pianist Francis Cowan and voice teacher Glenese Blake.

The performance is free and open to the public and takes place on 30 September, 6pm. Register to attend by email,

The full production will take place in early 2018.