Handa’s Opera on Sydney Harbour
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in Sydney
Handa’s Opera on Sydney Harbour, Madama Butterfly opened to the relief of many that voting for the NSW government had closed. Three ex Liberal PMs arrived in black tie celebrating that they were no longer up for election. (It was noted that they were not sitting together!) The former Minister for the Arts, Don Irwin had also scored an invitation along with many a pretty polly but the action for the night was focused on the stage. This was a steep grassy hill topped with a bamboo grove. Surrounded by the lapping harbour, it was indeed prime real estate. Hanging above the island were two signs, one reading ‘Lost’ and the other, ‘Paradise.’ Alfons Flores’ sets were not out of place in the twinkling Sydney landscape.
And thus begins Puccini’s tragedy, Madama Butterfly. This agonising tale of a young woman stripped of dignity, family and, ultimately, life, is among the most affecting. Arguably Puccini’s most loved, most performed opera, Madama Butterfly tells a story that is bigger than the cruel romance at its core; it tells a story of deception, misogyny, and imperialist capitalism that gives it timeless relevance.
This new production of Madama Butterfly on the Harbour is a revision of the 2014 production with some minor updates.
It was a spectacle to watch the landscaped hill become a dilapidated construction site for Acts two and three. This staging alerts the audience as to the transformation of B F Pinkerton (Diego Torre) from US naval officer into a ruthless property developer who is able to lease land in Japan for 999 years while also being able to expel and evict with one month’s notice.
Puccini combined Japanese and US elements of music into his score to reflect the opposition of the cultures in the plot. All of Madama Butterfly’s arias offer the pentatonic scale including, Che tua madre dovrà which is contrasted by the weaving in of the US National Anthem in the prelude to Pinkerton’s first Aria.
Karah Son was incredible as Cio-Cio-San. She has played the role in Opera Australia’s 2017 and 2019 seasons and also sung in Korea, Tampere, Leipzig, Warsaw, Berlin (Deutsche Oper), Goteborg and Turin. Opera Australia has shown so many stars with the most amazing voices since I saw my first Opera with them in 1996 but soprano Karah Son is definitely my favourite. Her “Un bel dì, vedremo” (One fine day) was a highlight as a soprano.
A leading tenor at Opera Australia for many years, Diego Torre has been celebrated in many roles, and his performance as Pinkerton was given with dramatic force juxtaposed against Karah Son. Playing US Ambassador to Japan, Michael Honeyman’s baritone voice topped off the performance along with Sian Sharp as the faithful Suzuki.
Other notable performances included Virgilio Marino as the marriage broker Goro, David Parkin as The Bonze, Alexander Hargreaves as Prince Yamadori and Danita Weatherstone as Kate Pinkerton.
Puccini’s music was played beautifully by Brian Castles-Onion’s Opera Orchestra underneath the stage.
Other highlights included the opening scene of the marriage with wedding caterers setting up the bar and paparazzi style photographers capturing the action. Cio-Cio-San enters in a white cocoon style wedding dress with her family in a variety of eye catching costumes including traditional kimonos although Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze arrives dressed as a gangster which fits into the more contemporary interpretation.
Enhancements include the huge moon against which Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San are silhouetted, the speedboat arrival of Prince Yamidora and the limousine cameo of Sharpless. The fireworks are perfectly choreographed to arrive at the end of the wedding.
This ultimate ode to unrequited love is a highlight in Sydney’s event calendar and with such talent, staging, music coming together in a dazzling setting, this is a fairy-tale evening of delight.
From 24 March–23 April 2023, the critically acclaimed and wildly popular Madama Butterfly returns to the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour stage. Tickets on sale now.
Opera Australia Box Office | +61 2 9318 8200 | opera.org.au
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