Kátya Kabanová

NZ Opera’s Kátya Kabanová opens appealingly with mystery. The lovely Kátya (Dina Kuznetsova) appears in soft pink, pretty and delicate beneath a blanket of stars. An aura of childlike wonder surrounds the scene – I feel as if I am gazing at a moving scene in a picture book. A jolly science teacher praises the beauty of the river while a servant, unimpressed, disagrees. I lean back into my seat, enjoying the beautiful set and costumes, and being taken back in time.

The lyrical novel begins. Set in 1950s America, everyone is suited, booted and coiffed – the set similarly constructed to paint a picture of order and grace: religious symbols in the tidy house, a bleach-white picket fence, pruned trees, a high-flying American flag. It is Sunday, church day. At the conclusion of the service, the lawn is awash with bows and smiles.

Polite and perfect settings soon juxtapose strongly with emerging, unregulated emotions. It seems that a religious morning has done nothing to soothe the spirits of a conflicted husband, a domineering mother, a fiery adopted sister, a lonely woman, a cantankerous uncle, and a man trapped by his uncle’s demands and his hopeless love for a married woman. The river to me becomes a visual representation of the changing temperaments of the human soul – surging with secrets, calm one moment and stormy the next.

As always I loved the visual and musical feast that I have come to associate with NZ Opera’s commitment to excellence. Though set in 1950s America, there are many themes and threads which are relatable in any time – most of all the universal emotional experience that we, being human, undoubtably share. Terse, lyrical outbursts by the individualistic Leoš Janáček carry the character-driven plot forward as we follow Kátya’s footsteps through a journey of inner struggle and courage.

Though Kátya Kabanová is the New Zealand Opera’s final offering for 2017, it is by no means one that should be overlooked. The performances of the cast are bold, heartfelt and haunting. The 1950s in the USA certainly marked a time when men ruled both the workplace and the home but seldom their mothers. Kátya Kabanová is a moving example of how at times that formula could go so tragically wrong. Patrick Nolan, the director, and Genevieve Blanchett, the production designer, seem to have taken particular care to make sure that this notion was not lost on we, the audience.

Although a tragedy, which has been compared to Romeo and Juliet, Kátya Kabanová does provide enough by way of individual performances, breathtaking lighting and set designs to leave us with a satisfying smile at the end of it all. Over and above those, there are outstanding performances by Wyn Davies [conductor] and The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as a spectacular audio-visual presentation which helped keep the suspended reality of Leoš Janáček’s vision and story completely alive and forbearing.

Kátya Kabanová has three more performances in Auckland this month before the production moves to Wellington’s St James Theatre for four dates from 7 October. For more details, see NZ Opera website.

Saturday, 16 September, 2017 – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

Written with Jarred Tito

This post has also been published on Libel.

Image © NZ Opera via Facebook.


Thoughts while washing dishes (or why I cook)

There is a certain quiet in the kitchen when everyone has eaten and left.

Sleep starts to tease your eyelids as your hands work methodically to soap and rinse the sprawl of pots, plates, utensils … getting slower as you start yearning for bed, then quicker as you look at the time and remember that your alarm clock will ring in 6 hours.

It is work, you work harder than you have all day at your day job. You hop off the train, kiss your husband, run to the store, come home, march into the kitchen, don an apron, get moving. When guests expecting dinner are due in 45 minutes, there is no pointless dawdling or twiddling of thumbs, no pointless scrolling, no staring at the clock willing 5pm to come sooner. It’s work shift #2 after a full shift #1, but it’s rewarding work – chopping, measuring, sniffing, stirring … eating … talking … checking that guests’ glasses are full and bellies filling. You whip cream and make tea. You co-host. You listen, talk, laugh, catch up. And then, just as quickly as it began, it’s over. They go home. Time to wash up and then to go to bed.

But THIS moment, washing dishes, marvelling at how cooking smells and laughter give way to crumbs on the table and oil splashes on the stovetop. THIS silence is golden. You understand that time is your own to do what you want with it. You understand why people are the most important thing in the world. You understand that all the work that goes into cooking and feeding makes sense and is worthwhile, even though food takes effort to cook and less effort to eat and once done it is a cycle to be repeated in the days to come.

Finally – when people have left and the plates are clean again, you can feel the difference it has made. You have given, but received so much more in return. You are satisfied with food and the fullness that comes from eating together with others. And you are filled with gratitude.

That’s why I do it. To feel good, to have fun – but equally, to enjoy the satisfaction of working hard with my hands and feeling rested, well and grateful.

Book Beginning: A Paris Year by Janice MacLeod

So begins A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World. The Kindle version of this book has been my recent companion on my daily train commute to and from work. (Seriously – it is so beautiful and may well be the second eBook for which I end up purchasing the print version of as well)!

I bought this eBook one evening when I was feeling whimsical, in the mood for a read that would be both light and intelligent, charming and inspirational.

A few pages in, I found myself smiling – and continued to do as I travelled to the city of light on the back of a beautiful, humorous, talented spirit. This is a book created by someone whom I haven’t met but am sure I would adore in person! – author and illustrator Janice Macleod.

If I visit Paris again, I’ll be sure to take this precious book with me.

This is my first post joining in the fun with Book Beginnings!

A lovely article / interview I came across that features A Paris Year / Janice Macleod is here.

Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals

On my birthday last month, I drove purposefully to Sabato. One has to be strong (as I learned) to shop there with self-control! On this particular day, full from brunch with friends, I thought I might manage …

When I got there I was greeted with a smiling face, pleasantly-stocked shelves, a table with various oils and vinegars to taste. I took my time, dipping cubes of bread into oils and vinegars, gazing at cheese and chocolate. It was difficult to maintain my resolve to pick up just dinner ingredients and a treat or two. In the end, I left a little guiltily with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with goodies.

After all of that, I didn’t enjoy our dinner that night that much, though J complimented me very kindly on it.

But this dish, made a few nights later with one citrusy Sabato purchase, won both of us over.

    Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals 
    Olive oil
    Pasta spirals
    Fresh heirloom tomatoes – halved
    Garlic cloves, minced (we used 3 for 2 of us)
    Shoulder bacon, roughly diced (we used 100g)
    Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Handful mushrooms, sliced
    Chilli flakes
    Ormond Rich Cream or white wine (optional)
    Mandarino* oil by Marina Colonna
    Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then add in pasta spirals**. Ensure that the pasta is well covered with water. Cook till al dente, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
    While the pasta is cooking, place a skillet over moderately high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is warm, fry the tomato halves until they smell sweet and begin to collapse, then remove and set aside.
    Add in a little more oil if the skillet is too dry. Throw in the chilli flakes, minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes – sauté. Once you can smell the garlic, deglaze with a splash of Ormond Rich Cream (you can also use any white wine or water) and cook for a minute or two till it evaporates. If you add in too much liquid at this point, just take some of it out with a spoon and set aside.
    Add in the bacon, fry till they turn a rich pink and brown in bits. Add in the mushrooms. Add in excess liquid from above if any – or add another splash of cooking wine / water, as well as a tablespoon of water from the pasta pot. Stir and lower the heat. Add the cooked tomatoes back in.
    When the pasta is ready, drain it, shake off excess water and stir it into the ‘sauce’.
    Now for the finishing touch*. Drizzle on the Mandarino, and serve immediately. Add freshly ground salt and pepper as you wish.
    * In lieu of using Mandarino, perhaps you could leave it out / experiment with another infused oil, or perhaps with adding a pinch of sugar, some chopped preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh orange juice?
    ** Depending on the cooking time of the pasta, you may wish to adjust the order of cooking so the pasta and bacon ‘sauce’ are ready at the same time.
    Measurements are not exact as I cooked this rather spontaneously (i.e. without measuring things) – this post is intended to serve as a guide / inspiration rather than a definite ‘how-to’. :-)

A man, a podcast and meeting Ciaran McMeeken

I have always had a passion for story-telling, creative people and those wonderful books / movies / plays etc that transport you to a whole new magical world. I enjoy good films and music just like most people I know, but until I met my husband, I would never have swum deeper into the world of the creative arts, music, movies – i.e. I would enjoy them when I was there, but I wouldn’t feel a need to read up more about them or listen to commentary around them.

At my first date with Jarred, though, I learned towards the end of our leisurely coffee date that my date (too many dates in this sentence and none are the Medjool sort) was involved with a podcast on entertainment. I was intrigued and secretly glad that I had not known this before we met up, as I would have thought – with great error – that such a man must be superficial and love celebrities and be scarily extroverted and have nothing in common with me. (Okay – I was the shallow judge!)

He asked if I might like to join him at his podcast that afternoon. I looked at his kind face for a few seconds, considering. I got into his car.

Image from Bossfight

As it turns out, it was more than safe – it was great! That day I met his co-host Wal, and a couple of filmmakers who shared their experience and passion in a way that made me reflect on and appreciate films, filmmakers and the creative process more. It was like being backstage, getting to watch a performance from a closer and different vantage point, but better. I was also rather floored by the confidence they all had in front of the camera and mic!

Good surprises come sometimes when you least expect it. I had a lovely evening out with my husband last night, pretending we were in sunny Thailand at happy eatery Kiss Kiss and following up with a cozy coffee-and-slice and Circus Circus, before we headed in to the studio for a podcast session.

I found out that this evening’s guest was singer-songwriter Ciaran McMeeken. Born in Arrowtown and bred in the wild and beautiful South Island of NZ, he was due to launch his self-titled album and debut tour in NZ (both happening today). I was a little sleepy as the night was cold and it was ticking slowly towards my bedtime – but when he arrived and the conversation began, the magic happened. I was a transfixed fly on the wall.

Through lighthearted banter, spontaneous questions and honest answers between them all, I learned a little about Ciaran’s journey, feeling a simultaneous sense of respect and delight. When he sang his beautiful song “Spanish Steps” towards the end, it was like we were at our own private concert. I found myself paddling in memories of home, travels, sunshine, yearnings and writing poetry. (Did you know that one of the best ways you can encourage your own creativity to emerge is to be in the presence of someone who daringly creates and shares his own art?)

For someone who’s sung in front of thousands whilst opening for Ronan Keating, Ciaran was also humble enough to acknowledge the people he’s met who have helped propel him forward. He mentioned a farmer, John, who he once worked alongside. John cut his apprehension down to size (by $18K) with simple, grounded advice and helped him to see that his dream was not as out of reach as he thought. Ciaran left the farm a few days later and as the popular saying goes … the rest is history! (Thanks, John!)

Meeting people, the desire to create and sing, serendipity, home, travel, struggle, goals … the conversation was only around 20 minutes long but touched on many aspects of the creative and human journey (see below). In the end, I was reminded that while luck, budget, kind people, opportunities and things like that play a role in fostering success, it is the decision to step out and say YES that finally makes it all possible.

Personal courage and action have been hugely crucial in bringing Ciaran to this point in his journey and I am positive that for as long as he continues to say YES and express his shining heart, he will enjoy many future successes.

“Like anything, you need a team … you can’t do it by yourself. Like climbing a mountain – you need some sherpas”, said Ciaran. Wise words.

Humble words.

We won’t be surprised when he wins his Grammy.


P.S. Of course I had to take a ‘we-fie’!

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Tune in to the remarkable Ciaran McMeeken

Chance to Ignite

Spirited, raw, spontaneous.

With poetic prose and energetic dashes of boxing and jujitsu, seven young stars take turns in the spotlight, inviting us into their stories. Hunger for their ‘spark’ moves the narrative along and the cast takes the audience on a journey that explores emotions around their inner battles. Sitting in the front row [at Q Theatre] we look right into their eyes, the windows to their souls, as they wax lyrical on dating, death, loneliness, being alone in nature, being ‘good’, being afraid and more. At one point I notice the sudden tears that jump into one young lass’s eyes – as she relives her own story, right there on the stage. I am touched as I realise she is voicing her truth.

The performance weaves together several narratives and incidents, with a certain sense of light and harmony. There is a unified, joyous energy that bursts from the cast throughout the performance – it is obvious that they have poured their hearts and souls into it. The cast members offer us a glimpse into their souls – paving the way for us to peer into our own.

Introspective, humorous, illuminating and relatable by turn, Chance to Ignite showcases the beauty of being both a young woman and ultimately a human being in the world.

Chance to Ignite

This post has also been published on NZ Entertainment Podcast.

Image © Massive Theatre Company / Eventfinda


Kuching, Sarawak: hidden treasures

Growing up in Southeast Asia, I used to take this part of the world for granted. Like some of my friends, my dream vacations involved faraway, ‘interesting’ places like France and Italy.

If I could turn back time, I’d change my perspective. Hot, sticky summers; amazing thunderstorms; delectable food; juicy tropical fruit … how much I overlooked the gifts of home :-)

Around two weeks ago, I popped over to Kuching, Sarawak to visit my friend Soo Sian. We met at university more than a decade ago (!) and I was excited that I was going to see her again … and visit her in her hometown! I didn’t really know what to expect; I had heard about Kuching’s famous orang utans and ‘food that was better than Singapore’s’ (a bold statement?) … aside from that, I went with an open mind.

Soo Sian came to pick me up at the airport and we dove right into easy, rapid conversation – as if the last time we caught up face to face properly was mere days ago, rather than years ago. My first thought about the city was that it was a cross between Singapore and Phuket in terms of pace, feel and cleanliness. It has the best of both cities :-) We headed straight to the heart of the city, into charming ‘old Kuching’ for lunch – sweet and smoky satay, noodles cooked in a gentle broth. I relaxed immediately.

So began six lovely days :-)

Old Kuching / Main Bazaar / Carpenter Street

Some parts of the area have been ‘touristified’, but it doesn’t take away the quiet beauty and charm of this area – loved both the cheerful, well-preserved buildings and the tranquil waterfront. Some really good food in the area too, which is great to enjoy in such surroundings.

The only downside for me was one public loo I walked into there, but I won’t say too much about that – just try not to need one if you are used to public toilets in Singapore or New Zealand.

At one of the jetties we caught a sampan across the river to Fort Margherita (where I got a quick introduction to the history of Kuching at the Brooke Gallery, recommended for first-time tourists).

Street art / heritage

One of the best things about Kuching for me was how you didn’t have to go far to step back in time, or admire the simple pleasures in life – and I mean that in the best way. Cities develop at such a rapid pace now, it was honestly such a joy to gaze at street art, see people doing things the ‘old (and best!) way’, walk past shops that brought back happy childhood memories …


It goes without saying … diets don’t work well in Southeast Asia, and definitely not in Kuching :-) And yes – there were moments in which I thought the food was good enough to rival Singapore’s!

I fell in love at first bite with this crunchy, succulent jungle fern known as midin. We ate it cooked with red wine twice, and belachan (shrimp paste) once. Scrumptious. I could eat it every day.

Local kueh, zhong zi / bak zhang (glutinous rice dumplings) and other delights: my grandma used to make or buy these quite frequently when she was alive. Always makes me happy to see them. I feel they are getting more rare now in shops, as they are labour-intensive and their low prices hardly make up for it.

Kolo mee: affectionately known as one of Sarawak’s national dishes – it’s easy to see its appeal, especially at breakfast time! You can find it almost anywhere in Kuching where there is food sold, though Soo Sian did say there are a few places that do it better than others.

Kway chap: a robust dish with the potential to charm or offend. Flat rice sheets – a little like torn lasagne sheets – served in a herbal broth flavoured with hearty spices like star anise and five spice powder, with braised offal, tongue, belly, etc. It has to be cooked well in order for it to be enjoyable and not pungent; we ate this dish at two places and both were delicious.

Let’s not forget one of the most important meals: dessert! We had some mighty fine dessert … most notably Cocopuri (try their signature). Light and delightful. I don’t think I’ve ever had three scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, nor would I have welcomed the thought, but here it was easy! On the night we were there I loved the combination I got: coconut + lychee bandung + teh-c special. This was topped with what I think were toasted coconut flakes and gula apong.

Kopi-C / China House was a haven of relaxation and indulgence too, with their tempting selection of cakes, good coffee and tasteful decor :-) A great place to visit alone with a notebook and pen, or with friends.

Being in Kuching at the start of Ramadan meant we got to visit a pop-up Ramadan bazaar, a lovely and lively experience, and pick up some delicious ayam penyet, biryani and sugar cane juice.

Indian Temple Trail, Matang

Home to three Indian temples, the trail is also a lovely walk for nature lovers and introverts. Ideal for those looking to start exercising too ;-)

Serapi Virgin coconut shake

A delicious treat after our walk! It was busy but still felt like one of Kuching’s well-kept secrets :-) Also enjoyed the drive there as we got to enjoy lovely views and lush greenery en route.

So it feels like I’ve spent most of this post talking about food … and it is obvious that I missed some of the obvious places and activities most tourists head to Kuching for :-) It is home to many other treasures besides what I have listed here, guess another trip there in the future may be in order. From a fellow tourist-who-loves-exploring-great-places point of view I hope tourism there will grow, yet in another way I hope it doesn’t grow so much that it loses the quiet beauty it enjoys now.

For me I was very lucky to have a friend and travel companion who also hosted me and drove me around, as I do think it would be very hard to get around on my own otherwise. Attractions are spread out and signage and public transport options were not clear to me. That said … when there’s a will, there’s a way. :-)

Thanks Soo Sian and all the beautiful people I met there for a relaxing, restorative getaway!