By Bryce Hallett
Entering the harbour-front site through a Japanese portal (of the kind found at a Shinto temple), you are transported into another time and place: a mini-city where fine dining, casual eating places, bamboo benches and bars are being built seemingly out of thin air.
Two enormous cranes are used to lift the many stage scenery pieces into place.
The orchestra pit is starting to shape up below the stage, as are the makeshift dressing rooms for the principal cast. (Shipping containers double as dressing rooms, make-up and wardrobe).
HOSH associate producer Kylie McOmish knows the site like the back of her hand. She was involved in the last two outdoor opera spectacles, La Traviata and Carmen. Beneath the bamboo and adornments there is a maze of alleyways where crew, technicians, dressers, wig-makers, chefs, waiters and sundry staff navigate tight spaces to ensure smooth passage.
Although the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge remain a focal point, the set design – a steep grassy knoll topped by a bamboo grove – is dramatic. Workers in hard hats and boots crawl over and under almost every nook and cranny while fork-lift drivers convey pieces of bamboo around the site.
The southern end is all about tradition and ceremony. Pathways, eating and drinking areas are lit by overhanging lanterns whilst rice paper walls and cherry blossom artwork are visually striking. It is here where the Adina Garden Bar, designed by bamboo specialists Cave Urban, and the Southern Terrace offer a relaxed and welcoming environment.
Stepping onto the pontoon that leads to the “underworld” of the stage is akin to entering the lower decks of a cruise ship. The rake of the stage means there is more headroom for the musicians as well as dressing rooms for the principal cast. The “pit” is similar in size to that of the Opera Theatre but at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour you can smell the sea air and feel the currents of the ocean. The soprano needs to have her sea legs.
A large white orb floats in the water. It is a pivotal part of the production’s set design by Alfons Flores. During each performance it comes to represent a giant sun and moon rising from the harbour and above the hilltop vista.
On the northern end of the foreshore, the event assumes the hustle and bustle of a modern Tokyo marketplace. It is here where champagne and oyster bars, the vibrant Northern Terrace and the luxurious Platinum Club for upscale dining and hospitality can be found.
The experience is magical and inspiring – and that’s even before a single note has been sung.
Take a look at the site map for this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour.
For more information and tickets to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly, click here.