Contralto Hannah Tatana has lead a colourful life, perhaps the people that enter the Brighton hospice secondhand shop she works at in England, are unaware of the talent that she was famously known for in New Zealand in the 1960's. In 1965 Hannah performed as a contralto in The New Zealand Opera production of George Gershwins's Porgy and Bess, she was cast in the role of Maria. Porgy and Bess was a huge success, but not without it's problems. The cast were not accustomed to the demands by the New York producer Ella Gerber, in fact Hannah described it as a 'baptism of fire'.
She was a wonderful producer but wow was she a terror. I met her in January when she arrived in Auckland at Whenuapai, a lovely lady, however..she got us straight into rehearsals and wow did it start out with a bang.
In 1965, The New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) recorded and broadcast Awatea the original radio drama written by Bruce Mason set in the seaside town Omoana with a stellar cast that included Pat Evison as Gilhooly, Inia Te Wiata as Werihe Paku and Don Selwyn as Matt Paku. The calibre of actors from both Porgy and Bess, and Awatea would on to forge careers in acting, wrting and directing. According to Hannah there are only three cast members still alive today from the core māori cast of seven.
The three weeks of rehearsals of Porgy and Bess were tough due to Ella Gerber's teaching methods, the pressure to perform and the difficult rehearsals lead to an unhappy cast. During this time, Inia Te Wiata summoned his fellow actors into his dressing room and encouraged everyone to get on with the job and take advantage of the opportunity, Porgy and Bess opened in Christchurch on March 1st 1965, it was a hit, but Hannah would remember it for a very different reason.
It was at that point, that I realised I was hapu (pregnant) with my son who will be fifty. I was so terrified. Tony Williams, he was doing sporting life, we worked together a lot in the rehearsals, he was crying too. I was thinking, gosh all this work that she's (Ella Gerber) going at me about, I might miscarry, it could have backfired..there was a bit of disarray in the ranks, but the tour was an incredible success....it was a milestone.
Hannah's first foray in singing was in 1961 when she won second place at the Mobil Song Quest, not long after she became the understudy to the part of Carmen in The New Zealand Opera Company production, In 1964 she placed fourth in a Music competition in Whanganui. Hannah and her brother Dave Tatana released recordings, the first was Hannah Tatana, Māori. Hine e Hine, Tukua Ahau, Waiata Poi and Moe Mai e hine are just a few of the classic waiata she recorded. Following the tour of Porgy and Bess, Hannah would travel and perform in Australia, Europe, and the United States. Eventually singing would take a back seat to a career teaching english and a student. In 2003 she completed a Masters in International relations.