Above : One of the digital sets designed by Damien Cooper. Virgilio Marino as Goro, Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San and Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton. Featured image : Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San with Sian Sharp as Suzuki. Photo credit for both images : Prudence Upton.
The day you see Opera Australia’s current production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly will be one fine day indeed. This version creates amazing stage atmospheres from which its characters’ arrogance and anguish can unfold.
Opera Australia continues its vibrant and successful partnership with director Graeme Murphy. Ensemble members and principals alike move around the glossy contemporary set with luminous
expression and ominous tension.
Production Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell has perched a moveable glossy platform in the centre of the stage as a focus for action. It tilts up high with a border of curved spikes, and it slopes on a slippery angle of impending doom.
Central to the essence of this new production is the use of digital sets, with video and projection design by Damien Cooper. An enthralling recent addition to Opera Australia’s scenic arsenal, the ebb and flow of such excellent imagery matches the hyper-contemporary style of the static set structures.
Around the digital set design, which alternates between the ornamental and fiercely figurative, Jennifer Irwin’s brilliant costumes swathe all characters in effective shapes and textures.
The use of dark hues as a costume base complements the setand contrasts with the brighter projections. Cio-Cio-San’s angered uncle The Bonze bursting onto the stage with an origami crane on his back is a startling gem of costuming.
The female ensemble members glide around the tilted stage always interestingly and suitably costumed. There is acerbic caricature and sheer beauty in the range of outfits worn. References to period style, geisha life and turn of the century art movements float with sharp comment before our eyes.
This busy yet striking visual smorgasbord aside, the production still drips with beautiful musical moments. Thanks to conductor Massimo Zanetti, the visual impact exists alongside beautifully woven moments of Puccini music. The score unfolds full of fine balance, rich colour and accessible verismo dialogue.
Above : Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton and Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San. Photo credit : Prudence Upton.
Cio-Cio-San emerges in her contemporary geisha outfit of shiny black PVC bound at the waist with a mess of red cords. Soprano Karah Son takes solid command of the stage from this point on. She is vocally focussed and a believable actor. We delight in her beautifully substantial tone rising from fleeting utterances and more extended vocal moments alike.
Impressive flexibility of character and voice comes from Michael Honeyman in the role of Sharpless. A fine level of vocal chemistry is present in later scenes with an emotionally stretched Butterfly.
Likewise the role of Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton is sung with sweet and pure tone by Andeka Gorrotxategi. He is continually a fine portrait of a uniformed man from the early twentieth century.
Sian Sharp in the role of Butterfly’s attendant Suzuki gives a gutsy performance above, below and on the skew fragment of stage parapet. Her moments on stage emanate with attitude,
strength, considerable humanity and a syrup-like low register to lose yourself in.
This production is Madama Butterfly as few could have typically imagined, but it works. Regarding the introduction of digital set technology, careful checking of the extent to which an opera audience can be overwhelmed visually will be a sensible aim over the next few operas which use it.
For now, opera in Australia has a bold, bright new skin. The goosebumps it gives electrify.
Madama Butterfly plays at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 10.