The world premiere of a homegrown opera about Hohepa Te Umuroa is a highlight of the biennial New Zealand International Arts Festival which opens in Wellington on Friday.
Composer Jenny McLeod wrote the opera about the Maori chief, whose turbulent history took him from the Hutt Valley to Tasmania's Maria Island penal colony and then to the Whanganui River.
The opera is one of the most ambitious commissions of creative director Lissa Twomey's third and final festival.
Ms Twomey, a former Sydneysider, will be heading back to Australia later this year.
"The festival has had a tradition of opera in European style. So I'm very excited about this opera," she says.
Another Maori production is also attracting attention - a special Te Reo Maori version of Shakespeare's tragedy Troilus and Cressida which will also play at London's Globe Theatre.
Some festival events are free and tickets to others are priced $10-$108, with a number of cheaper tickets to the more pricy performances.
Ms Twomey says the festival has to be mindful of tough economic times.
"As a festival director you always want to do more. Since 2008 there's been a dramatic change, arts organisations have found it very challenging and we've had to be very businesslike and think hard about what people can afford and what they will come to," she told NZ Newswire.
"We've reshaped the festival, including catering for a younger demographic of music goers."
One of the keys to Wellington's success as an arts festival destination is its size, Ms Twomey said.
"The best arts festivals are held in smaller cities, such as Wellington, Edinburgh, Adelaide and Avignon, because they're so walkable - everything's easily accessible and the festival becomes part of the whole city, not just fragments."
The three-week festival, which ends on March 18, also comprises music, performance art, dance, art and Writers and Readers Week.