It was 2007 when vivid dreams of Aotearoa’s landscapes began calling Holly Winterwood home.
She had never been to New Zealand, but she knew it was where she belonged.
Now based in Greytown with her husband Zac, she has used her journey into her own Maoridom as inspiration to write Paeakau, The Opera, which she stars in.
Holly had been studying music in England when the dreams began.
“It was really bizarre. Every night I just dreamed about all of these landscapes, but I’d never been to New Zealand.”
Holly followed her dreams and went to New Zealand with her mum after she graduated where she discovered her ties to iwi in the East Coast and Bay of Plenty areas.
“My mum’s family had moved from New Zealand to Australia when she was like 7 or 8 years old.
“We grew up in Australia and I didn’t come here until I was 25.”
“That has been a big journey for me.”
Holly, who is classically trained in opera, said after her first trip to New Zealand, her singing changed.
“It was weird. The sound of it changed.
“For the first time, I felt that it wasn’t just me singing – that I actually had like a base of people supporting me.”
When she met her East Coast whanau she said they were “so embracing of me as a singer”.
“They wanted me to sing opera at the Marae.
“I felt like I was discovering who I was and where I came from.
“That was a big moment for me – it’s like I actually have a history of music and a history of song.”
Holly met Zac in Melbourne in 2012, and the pair moved to Greytown in 2015.
“We feel like New Zealand is home,” Holly said.
“We’d come over here and then go back to Melbourne and we could never last six months without coming back.”
Unlike Holly, Zac’s music style is experimental, but the two have bonded over folk and experimental genres under two guises – Silver Lillies, acoustic atmospheric folk, and Otamo, ambient soundscapes.
They decided to write Paeakau, The Opera last January after inspiration flooded into Holly’s mind while on an East Coast road trip.
The opera is a unique combination of classical voice, traditional Maori singing, and Te Reo Maori and English narration to an electric guitar and taonga puoro soundscape.
It tells the story of a young woman’s journey to her own Maoridom, and to her powerful destiny, forged centuries before her birth.
“When this story came to me, we were driving around the East Coast, so I got out my phone and recorded it all in my notes because I didn’t have pen and paper. I had the three acts, everything.
“When we left the coast, I forgot it, so it was lucky I had my phone.”
Holly’s mother, Michele Hawkins, wrote the story and libretto of the opera as part of a fellowship at New Zealand Pacific Studio, and a sneak preview of the first Act was performed at Aratoi last year.
The role of Paeakau will be performed by Holly, and she will be joined by the recorded voices of prominent New Zealand artists Rawiri Paratene as The Narrator and Whirimako Black as The Ancestress, Whaiora.
Paeakau, The Opera will debut on Saturday October 14 at Aratoi Museum of Art and History as part of the Kokomai Creative Festival.
“I discovered my ties in 2007 in October, so it’s a 10-year anniversary that we’ll be debuting the opera, and it will be the first production we have put on ourselves,” Holly said.
“We’ve led the set design, costume design, lighting design, all these behind-the-scenes stuff we’ve never done before.
“The first vision was that we wanted to be able to perform this opera anywhere in New Zealand with just the two of us.
“We want the flexibility and capability to take it into remote communities, onto the Marae, all over New Zealand.
“It’s important to expose Paeakau’s story to people of all backgrounds.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit kokomai.co.nz.