Story: Opera and musical theatre

A unicorn for Christmas

Cast members John Poole (the Wyvern), Ian Morton (Poges) and Mary O'Brien (the unicorn) are shown in this photograph of the New Zealand Opera Company production of A unicorn for Christmas, composed by David Farquhar with a libretto by Ngaio Marsh. The commissioning of the work by the company in 1962 represented a new commitment to local composition of musical theatre and opera. Premiered in December 1962, the opera was staged for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip when they toured New Zealand in 1963.

Based on the play The Wyvern and the unicorn by Ngaio Marsh, the opera tells the story of the Lacey family, who have fallen on evil times after the loss of a jewel called 'The luck of the Laceys'. According to legend, it can only be restored by a woman called Barbara from across the seas. The Lacey castle has recently been sold to the Pinchbecks, who are relatives by marriage. They arrive just before Christmas in the company of the young New Zealand-born Lacey heiress, Annabella – whose second name happens to be Barbara. ‘In this extract from a December 1962 performance, Annabella, played by Lynne Cantlon, sings of how she feels she has been in this place before.

Using this item

Alexander Turnbull Library, John Ashton Collection (PA-Group-00381)
Reference: 39741-35mm-61-F
Photograph by John Ashton

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Courtesy of the estate of David Farquhar, the estate of Ngaio Marsh and theNew Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Sound file from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Nga Taonga Korero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Nga Taonga Korero (A unicorn for Christmas/Reference number ID 13372 )

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How to cite this page:

Lindis Taylor, 'Opera and musical theatre - Composers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/music/41897/a-unicorn-for-christmas (accessed 5 June 2020)

Story by Lindis Taylor, published 22 Oct 2014