Photo Credit: Grant Triplow / NZ Opera
“Ihitai ‘Avei’a – Star Navigator” is the first opera composed by New Zealand musician and composer Tim Finn, member of the band Split Enz, with supplementary compositional aid from Tom McLeod. The work emerged out of a co-commission partnership between the New Zealand Opera and West Australian Opera. The opera featured the Tahitian language in the form of Tahitian monologues orated by poet and novelist Célestine Hitiura Vaite and is recognized as the first opera to feature both the Tahitian and English language. The plot follows the exploration of Polynesia by British explorer James Cook and Tupaia during the 1769 voyage aboard the HMS Endeavour.
The opera first began with Finn’s fascination with astronomy and maritime navigation. Through a partnership with McLeod, Finn introduced the idea to Vaite following his introduction to her novel, “Breadfruit.” The libretto was a mixture of Vaite’s writings, Finn’s music, and additional text from playwright Gary Henderson. During the process of writing, Finn visited French Polynesia, specifically the island of Raiatea within the group known as the Society Islands, as well as the marae of Taputapuatea, a communal spot for sacred services on the eastern coast of Raiatea.
The premiere occurred from March 19 to 20, 2021, and was met with great publicity given its novel nature. It was first staged under the direction of German conductor Uwe Grodd, featuring Amitai Pati as the lead protagonist, member of the New Zealand music group Sol3 Mio. The opera was originally going to be performed again in Perth Concert Hall but, given the pandemic, the performance was rescheduled and then later cancelled.