Opera: Āitu

Aria: Here's to them, to them that are gane - sung in Scottish English and Sāmoan



Synopsis of the Imagined Opera

Āitu’ - ghosts or spirits, often malevolent

Family histories carry their own kind of mythology - a blend of societal customs, long-forgotten stories, world events and personal relationships. Āitu is a documentary opera exploring the multi-faceted nature of baritone Benson Wilson's family tree. Told through a series of podcasts which mix narration, interviews, music and song, each episode explores a different aspect of the Wilsons' collective story. From Frank Magnus Wilson's involvement in blackbirding and his decision to settle in Samoa to Benson's experience of living and working between Samoa, New Zealand and the UK, each podcast uncover many generations of histories, conflicts, experiences and decisions in search of a new way forward. A path, which acknowledges the past without erasing it and which seeks a future all of its own.

Here's to them, to them that are gane draws on Benson's Samoan and Scottish ancestry, combining words and melodies from each tradition. It appears in the final episode of the series and acts as a way to bring multiple strands covered by the podcasts together; ancestry, nationality, political events and personal memories. Ending as it does with a lullaby passed down through generations of Benson's family, it soothes many of the tensions present in this unique family story, creating the opportunity for a fresh outlook on the world free from the āitu which may seek to disrupt it.



Benson Wilson - Baritone

In 20/21 Benson joins English National Opera as a Harewood Artist, opening the season as Schaunard La bohème for their Drive & Live production at Alexandra Palace. On the concert platform he begins the season with a recital tour of New Zealand including for Auckland Chamber Concert Hall, Hawkes Bay Opera House and Auckland Opera Studio, and later gives UK recitals for Oxford Lieder and King’s Lynn Festivals with pianists Sholto Kynoch and Lucy Colquhoun. Future engagements include house debuts for New Zealand Opera and Queensland Opera, as well as further roles for ENO.

Previous operatic roles include Marullo Rigoletto for Glyndebourne on Tour,  John Shears Paul Bunyan (ENO), Mirza Der Gesang Der Zauberinselat the Salzburger Festspiele as a 2019 Salzburg Young Singer, cover John Sorel The Consul (Welsh National Opera), Guglielmo Cosi Fan Tutte and Count Almaviva Le Nozze di Figaro (Bloomsbury Opera), Schabernack Le Grand Macabre with London Symphony Orchestra, Schaunard La Boheme (Festival Opera Napier), and Guglielmo Cosi Fan Tutte, Demetrius A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Assan The Consul as a scholar on the Guildhall School of Music & Drama Opera Course.

Benson regularly appears in concert in repertoire including Handel Messiah, Mozart Requiem, Faure Requiem, Duruflé Requiem and Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem, and in 2016 he joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a Total Immersion Concert featuring works by Richard Rodney Bennett.

Prior to relocating to the UK, he won New Zealand’s premiere singing competition, the Lexus Song Quest, and graduated with a BMus from the University of Auckland. Benson is a former young artist of the Georg Solti Accademia di Bel Canto, the Samling Young Artist Programme, the International Vocal Arts Institute, New Zealand Opera School and the National Opera Studio in London.


Bradley Wood - Repetiteur

New Zealander pianist Bradley Wood has just completed a Master’s degree at the Royal College of Music. As a soloist, he has performed with all of New Zealand’s major orchestras and has taken part in many masterclasses with prominent artists and teachers including Stephen Hough and Vladimir Ashkenazy. In 2015, he was awarded 1st Prize and the Audience Prize in the New Zealand National Concerto Competition. He has performed solo, chamber and song recitals in prestigious venues such as St Martin-in-the-Fields and St James’s Piccadilly. In 2018, he was a finalist in the Royal Over-Seas League Annual Music Competition, and was invited to perform in their Edinburgh Fringe Festival concert series. Bradley has a passion for collaborating with instrumentalists and singers, and works with both regularly. As a member of the Tasman Duo, he received the Pettman/ROSL Chamber Music Scholarship leading to a concert tour of the United Kingdom. Recently, he was one of only six pianists selected to participate in the Georg Solti Accademia in Venice, where he had the opportunity to be coached on the art of Italian Opera by world renowned répétiteurs and conductors. He is currently Head of Music for the Bloomsbury Opera Company, who have recently had successful performances of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte. In September 2019, Bradley performed with two singers in the Wigmore Song/Independent Opera International Song Competition at Wigmore Hall. 


Creative Team

Alex Groves - Composer and Librettist

Alex Groves is a British composer and curator working across contemporary classical and electronic music. His work blends classical instruments, ambient textures and live-processed electronics to create uncanny soundworlds where the line between acoustic and electronic, real and imagined becomes blurred.

Most recently, Alex self-released Curved Form (St Endellion) - an electronic reworking of a piece originally commissioned by the Manchester Collective - which was inspired by the vivid colours of the Cornish coastline. Other recent work includes commissions for the National Opera Studio, London Contemporary Orchestra and Crash Ensemble, music theatre works for English Touring Opera Hanbury & Groves and ERRATICA, and residencies with Handel & Hendrix in London, Snape Maltings, Endelienta, Wild Plum Arts and the New Amsterdam Composers Lab.

His music has been presented at the Barbican Centre, Sage Gateshead, Royal Opera House, V&A, Union Chapel, National Theatre Studio, King's Place and Nonclassical, broadcast on NTS Radio, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 6 Music, and released on Bedroom Community.