Spanish creative powerhouse La Fura dels Baus has tackled its fair share of challenges over decades at the forefront of street theatre and outdoor spectaculars: the Barcelona Olympic Games and a large-scale production of Aida at the anniversary of the Arena di Verona, to name a couple. But presenting an opera on Sydney Harbour is the biggest yet, said Artistic Director Alex Ollé.
“To work on a stage in the sea is a different experience for me!” he said shortly after his arrival in Australia. At just one month out from the event itself, the transformation of Mrs Macquaries Point into a 3,000-seat outdoor opera theatre is well underway.
The 16 underwater pylons holding up the vast stage, the sound and lighting towers, and floating walkway, are in position for another year as Madama Butterfly prepares to take elaborate flight.
Echoing the opera’s cross-cultural themes, the large-scale cultural event brings together the worlds of construction and theatre in unique and exciting ways.
“The entire project represents a meld of cultures,” says Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour executive producer Louisa Robertson. “It’s built concurrently and at any one time there are hundreds of workers on site. During each performance there are probably 300, including artists and musicians, box office and security. We have an electrician and plumber, and we work closely with an arborist because the Moreton Bay figs grow bigger every year. We have to take them into account in our plans.”
Robertson is a picture of calm given how colossal the undertaking, a veritable jigsaw that is being assembled in various locations, including at White Bay where the 1276sq m stage base structure of hard polystyrene is being made in two halves. When positioned, astro turf will be rolled over the surface to form a grassy knoll crowned by a bamboo grove.
Set designer Alfons Flores has created a spectacular set that incorporates the natural surrounds of the Opera on Sydney Harbour site. The beautiful wooded green hillside is lit by the rising moon and set against Sydney’s iconic skyline, which represents modernity and the new world the American Pinkerton brings to Japan.
Each new production of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour has a spectacular element that captured the feel of the production. In the first year, a giant chandelier hung over the harbour-top stage for La Traviata. In 2013, giant red letters spelling out Carmen lit up the back of the stage – visible from many vantage points around Sydney Harbour. This year, the La Fura del Baus team have designed two beautiful orbs – a 6-metre moon which will rise and silhouette the lovers in the first act, and a 12-metre sun which will inflate on a barge in the harbour, as though it is rising from the sea itself.
The site itself will capture the beauty and bustle of Japan: tranquil Japanese gardens and busy Tokyo streets. Site designer Eamon D’Arcy says the challenge is for the world of the stage to be complemented rather than overshadowed by the Japanese-influenced design elements, including cherry blossoms, neon and lanterns, used to bring a vivid sense of tradition and majesty to the site. A delicious Japanese-inspired menu (by Fresh Catering) adds to the picture: ticketholders can start their evening with street-food style noodles and a glass of champagne or a three-course alfresco menu in the Platinum Lounge.
“It’s like creating a small city yet we build it in 26 days,” adds Robertson. “Like any construction site you’re at the mercy of the elements. You just hope everything goes to plan in readiness for opening night.”
Read more about the dining experience (and try it at home with a delicious recipe for Popcorn Shrimp) here.
For more information and tickets to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly, click here.