SINGER Te Ua Houkamau had more reason than most to be anxious about being trapped by flooding and slips in the coastal township of Hicks Bay.
He had to be there — Houkamau may now be based in Melbourne but there was no way he was going to miss the whanau gathering to mark the second anniversary of his father’s death. But he had a deadline to meet. Houkamau has to be back in Australia by Monday to start rehearsing for his next major role.
As it turned out, the rain let up enough for the 29-year-old to get back to Gisborne yesterday, giving him plenty of time to catch up with the friends and whanau he left when he moved to Melbourne five years ago.
And that will have to do him for a while. After the emerging tenor completes a three-month run singing the male lead of Cavaradossi in an Emotionworks Cut Opera production of Tosca, he won’t get much time off before rehearsals start for Melbourne Opera Company’s 2013 show, Figaro. In between that, he has to work at his day job in a bank, though he says his employers are “very generous” about giving him large blocks of time off.
For Houkamau, securing larger lead roles is the realisation of a dream he has been pursuing since he was a student at Gisborne Boys’ High School.
Back then, he sang both opera and contemporary music and was a powerful member of the kapa haka team. He still manages to incorporate most of that into his new life in Melbourne, but says the kapa haka team he tutors — Te Aka Matua — “is basically just a whole lot of coasties who just want to get together”.
About the opera, though, he is deadly serious, working regular vocal coaching in with his rehearsal and performance routine.
“My voice has really developed in the last year or so in terms of control and technique,” Houkamau said this week as he juggled nieces and nephews at his mother’s neat Kaiti home. “It’s getting to the point where I have been able to really open that top register, which gives me a lot more strength and confidence in carrying off those bigger roles.”
Singing opera in his next role, however, will make him stand out from the rest of the cast. Emotionworks founder Julie Edwardson says her productions are opera “with all the boring bits taken out” and, as such, are shorter than the original works, with many of the characters singing in styles from jazz to belty blues.
And the award-winning director’s focus appears to have wide appeal. Tosca doesn’t open at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria until September but already many of the shows are sold out.
“The show is fun but people are paying $60 a pop to see it so we take our performances very seriously,” Houkamau said. “It’s a way of making opera available to a new generation who might not be interested in a more traditional approach.”
Houkamau has his work cut out for him over the next few months but — in addition to the whanau and other coasties who occasionally pop up back stage — he will soon have the relief of a little bit of home. Come Setptember, his mother Ngaire will fly over to see him perform in Tosca.
“The work is quite demanding and since I’ll be auditioning for roles both in Australia and around Europe that is not going to change,” he said.
“But it’s really important to maintain those whanau connec-tions so I try to get back as much as I can.”