Opera Australia Blog

A new Madama Butterfly takes flight with La Fura dels Baus

When Lyndon Terracini appointed La Fura dels Baus to direct and design Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2014, he knew they would bring something very special.

The avant-garde Spanish theatre troupe are at the leading edge of outdoor theatre, lending their bold creative vision to events as distinct as the Olympic Games in Barcelona and an enormous outdoor production of Aida for the anniversary of the Arena di Verona.

They come at opera with a deep respect for the composer’s intention, and a strong commitment to find the heart of the story in today’s context. They bring out the contemporary themes for contemporary audiences.

Madama Butterfly is an intimate story of a broken love, a betrayal” says Àlex Ollé. “But it’s also about something bigger – a clash of cultures.”

Set design for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. By Alfons Flores.

Set design for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. By Alfons Flores.

That bigger theme is so universal that Ollé believes the story could take place anywhere – in 19th century Japan, where Puccini set his opera, or right here on Sydney Harbour in 2014, where this performance will take place.

Cio-Cio-San (Madam Butterfly) is today’s young woman, he explains. “She happens to fall in love with the wrong person – Pinkerton is perhaps today’s businessman or developer – who thinks everything has a price and can be purchased.”

She is bedazzled by what she thinks Pinkerton represents: modernity and freedom. He is taken with her exotic beauty, and feels entitled to have a taste.

Costume designs by Lluc Castells for Cio-Cio-San and her ladies in the wedding scene of Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly.

Costume designs by Lluc Castells for Cio-Cio-San and her ladies in the wedding scene of Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly.

“He comes in almost like a tsunami and wipes out everything in his path,” Ollé says.

It serves as a devastating metaphor for the meeting of two worlds – the traditions of the east and the sweeping modernity of the west, he says. There are themes in this story that transcend time: a clash of cultures and expectations, power and colonisation, the thrill of the exotic and tantalising, unfulfilled promises of freedom.

Set designer Alfons Flores has created a spectacular stage that fits seamlessly into the outlook of the Opera on Sydney Harbour site. It is a beautiful green hillside, wooded with bamboo, lit by the rising moon and rolling into the Royal Botanic Gardens with the glittering Sydney Skyline in the distance.

By the end of the opera, that beautiful green hillside will have been changed irrevocably. “It is devastated land,” Ollé explains. “It’s a beautiful metaphor for Cio-Cio-San’s devastated emotional state, and a representation of Pinkerton’s self-entitlement. He destroys Cio-Cio-San and everything around her.”

Costume Designer Lluc Castells with Hiromi Omura as Cio-Cio-San for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. Photo by Vincent Bousserez.

Costume Designer Lluc Castells with Hiromi Omura as Cio-Cio-San for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. Photo by Vincent Bousserez.

Costume designer Lluc Castells has chosen to narrate the cultural clash through his costuming: Cio-Cio-San begins the opera wearing a stunning traditional Japanese wedding outfit complete with an enormous Butterfly back tattoo, but as the story goes on, her dress becomes fused with modern fashion.

That tattoo is an important connection with the history of geishas, Castells explains. “It gives our Butterfly a connection with the past and the present.”

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: La Traviata in 2012. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: La Traviata in 2012. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Each new Opera on Sydney Harbour has had its own calling card, a set element to “capture the public imagination,” explains Lyndon Terracini. In 2012, a giant crystal chandelier hung over the La Traviata stage, in 2013, giant Hollywood style letters lit up the Carmen stage. This year, a 12-metre sun will rise from Sydney Harbour and a six-metre moon will silhouette the lovers as they sing their famed duet.

The site itself is a Japan-inspired paradise, with elegant Japanese gardens and bustling Tokyo-style street-food carts. Paper lanterns light the paths and modern Asian fusion cuisine is available on site, along with premium wines and champagne.

Mixed plate of Japanese-inspired tapas. Image courtesy Fresh Catering.

Mixed plate of Japanese-inspired tapas. Image courtesy Fresh Catering.

The event is designed to be a complete experience, from the optional arrival by water taxi to the carefully-themed food, to the spine-tingling music. Even the event toilets have won awards.

“I think the audience will receive the show with delight and astonishment,” Ollé says. “The music, the tragedy of the story, the whole environment and the spectacular setting make a good cocktail!”

For tickets, a teaser video and more information, click here.

4 Responses to “A new Madama Butterfly takes flight with La Fura dels Baus”

  1. Jan Bowen

    Another triumph! What a magical operatic experience. Thanks and congratulations to Opera Australia.

    Reply
  2. Sandra Davies - 7 April 2014

    My 2 girl friends and I attended the Opera on Saturday and we were all absolutely enthralled with the whole performance, the singing was sublime and the sets extremely creative. We had amazing seats with most of the performance happening right in front of us. For 2 of us it was our third opera but the 3rd friend it was her first visit and she said it will be a memory she will cherish forever. The atmosphere, food and setting just created the perfect ambiance for the whole evening. A bit thank you goes out to everyone involved as it takes such a lot to put on a show like this.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

Read previous post:
Victoria Lambourn & Anna Yun will alternate the role of Suzuki. Anna's photo courtesy NewsLocal.
Meet Suzuki: Butterfly’s best friend

As a character, Suzuki is something of an enigma: part servant, part best-friend. She was perhaps once a geisha herself,...

Close