Maisey Rika brings Māori singing legend to stage

Maiey Rika. Supplied photos.

The Sir Howard Morrison Centre is accustomed to hosting legendary artists, but on Valentine’s Day this year the iconic venue will see renowned Te Arawa singer Ana Hato, who passed away in 1957, back on stage in a Waita Opera fantasy theatre work.

‘The Mario LaNZa Valentines Fantasy’ is written and directed by Samoan creative, Siliga Sani Muliaumasealii, and tells the story of an imaginary meeting between Ana Hato and American opera star Mario Lanza, after when Lanza’s plane is forced to land in Rotorua during a freak summer storm.

Muliaumaseali’I, a Royal Opera House and English National Opera tenor, and RNZ Concert presenter, says the idea for the show was unexpected.

“I originally wanted to present a concert in Rotorua featuring songs made famous by Mario Lanza, when I happened across some Ana Hato recordings at the RNZ Concert studios and I was immediately struck by the purity of her voice,” he says.

After delving a little deeper, Muliaumaseali’I discovered how just much Ana Matawhāura Hato (Ngāti Whakaue and Tūhourangi), had contributed to the recording history of Aotearoa.

Siliga Sani Muliaumasealii.

Hato and her cousin, Deane Waretini Senior, were two of the first Māori / New Zealand singers to be commercially recorded in Aotearoa, including a recording at Ohinemutu Marae in Rotorua in 1927 for the Duke and Duchess of York during their Royal Visit.

“Ana Hato was known as the Maori nightingale and Mario Lanza, who was one of the biggest opera recording and film stars of the 1950’s, was known as the American Caruso,” says Muliaumaseali’I.

“Bringing the two stars together in a story set in Rotorua, in the time of the Māori Battalion, offers a rich union of Māori culture and Italian Opera culture. The possibilities of what could occur at such a meeting proved irresistible and the story unfolded.”

He says selecting the singer to bring Hato to life also naturally unfolded, with multi-award winning Māori singer-songwriter Maisey Rika, also Ngati Whakaue, an inspired choice for the role.

“Maisey has one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most impressive lead vocal styles. She recorded several Māori albums before finishing her high school years, with one reaching double platinum status here in New Zealand.

“Maisey and countless other Māori recording artist stand on the shoulders of Ana Hato, Deane Waretini and their pioneering work.”

The Hato whānau are thrilled their Tipuna is being acknowledged in such a unique way, and the boutique ensemble made up of Ngāti Whakaue and Tūhourangi share this enthusiasm.

Many of the ensemble have solid Kapa Haka backgrounds, but are new to the world of music theatre.

"I am more than happy to be a part of this kaupapa! Bring on Mario Lanza woohoo!!!", says baritone Rapata Biddle.

Audiences at The Mario LaNZa Valentines Fantasy will recognise popular waiata including Hine e hine Waita Poi and Pokarekare Ana, as made famous by Hato, as well as Lanza favourites such as Be My Love and The Lords Prayer.

The rest of the team include vocal coach Dan Ieremia, the musical director for the 2022 Rotorua Musical Theatre production of ‘The Colour Purple’, and Australian pianist Lyndall Dawson, who’s CV includes musical director, repetiteur, accompanist and coach in Opera and Musical Theatre, while currently a Lecturer in Music Theatre at VCA, University of Melbourne.

“We’ve a mix of international and local talent both on and off the stage, all working together to tell a local story about a local hero. It’s a local story with universal appeal and a bit of fantasy thrown in for good measure,” says Muliaumasealii.

The Mario LaNZa Valentines Fantasy will have two outings on February 14, 2024 with a preview at 2pm, and evening show at 7pm.

Tickets are selling out and are available now from & the Sir Howard Morrison Centre


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