As a character, Suzuki is something of an enigma: part servant, part best-friend. She was perhaps once a geisha herself, but it is clear she is inferior to the beautiful Butterfly.
Mezzo-sopranos Victoria Lambourn and Anna Yun will alternate in the role in this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly.
For one, it is the start of something: Anna Yun will make her first “proper” debut with Opera Australia in this role, having covered (understudied) roles in the past and sung in the extra Chorus. For the other, it is a spectacular farewell to the Australian stage: Victoria Lambourn moves to Germany this year to take up a European contract. For both of them, Suzuki is a wonderful role to play – complex and utterly human.
“It’s a heartbreaking role,” says Anna. “You just feel so helpless. Suzuki is in this horrible position where she’s looking at Butterfly’s situation from the outside. She wants to help but there’s nothing that she can do.”
Victoria believes Suzuki has a great inner strength, and is easily relatable for the audience. “She sees the tragedy unfolding. Butterfly is off in this wonderful world of delusion, but Suzuki sees reality (as the audience do). She does everything possible to prevent the events unfolding as they do, but at the end of the day, she’s just a servant and she can’t really change the outcome.”
For Victoria, who has performed this role hundreds of times, the back story is a sad one: the pair trained to be geishas together, but Suzuki was simply not pretty enough to make it. For Anna, who sings this role for the first time this year, the pair’s close relationship comes out of their shared experience in the wake of Butterfly’s marriage to Pinkerton.
“I think their relationship is more than that of master and servant,” she explains. “They’re companions, they’re best friends. When Butterfly marries, they are shunned from society. So they’re living together, and raising a child together and completely excluded from the outside world. That’s brought them very close.”
Both artists say it’s an honour to work with creative team, La Fura dels Baus. “Their work is always a little out there. It’s going to be an incredible production,” Anna says.
The Spanish team have set Madama Butterfly in a contemporary world, right where the event is held, on Sydney Harbour. The point is to bring the story home to Australian audiences in a way that is relatable and real, Victoria says.
Victoria couldn’t imagine a better farewell to the Australian stage than the “grandeur and spectacle” of Opera on the Harbour, set against Sydney’s world-famous skyline.
For Anna, who comes from a tiny town in the middle of Siberia and moved to Australia in 2005 to pursue opera, this opportunity is more than a dream come true. She is debuting in Opera on Sydney Harbour in a production she can’t stop gushing about: “it’s going to be so beautiful and wonderful. It’s fantastic.”
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