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31 March, 2014

Madama Butterfly from a pontoon on Sydney Harbour in autumn.

Opera in the open air.  Madama Butterfly at Mrs Macquaries Chair. Friday 21st March (equinox). "Handa Opera"
Cio-cio-san - Hiromi Omura
Suzuki - Anna Yun
Pinkerton - Georgy Vasiliev
Sharpless - Michael Honeyman
Goro - Graeme Macfarlane
Bonze - Gennadi Dubinsky
c. B. Castles-Onion
d. Alex Olle (La Fura dels Baus)
Sets Alfons Flores
Costumes Lluc Castells
For the third year in a row the opera company has pulled off a seemingly impossible coup by holding back the weather (at least for opening night) and presenting a classy performance of a classic opera to a large and appreciative audience under the stars and in full view of Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. 
Personally I have problems with using public gardens and foreshores for such elitist events (A reserve tickets were $300 each).  I also have problems with hearing trained opera singers using microphones in such open-air shows.  But like other things in life I have suppressed these guilty and critical feelings and got with the swing.  In case of rain I am lucky enough to live within walking distance.  And I sat in seats which cost about $100 and extremely good value. 
Like Carmen and La Traviata before it, I enjoyed almost every aspect of the night, notably the opera itself.  The singing was superb and production creditable and clever.  Again, aspects grated on me - like Astroturf which I have always disliked … choosing singers based on their racial originals also goes against the grain (a list of actors had mostly Asian names while the sopranos playing Cio-cio-san were Japanese and Korean).  Notwithstanding this, the vocals were of a very high standard from all main and subsidiary characters. I always wait for the two tenor high points, Dovunque al mondo and Addio, fiorito asil and was not disappointed.  The soprano did everything except the optional D flat finishing her first act entrance. 
The production takes place on an enormous hillock of fake lawn surmounted by a palisade of fake bamboo.  Behind this an enormous fake full moon bobbed up and down hooked from a real but temporary crane gantry.  There was some beauty to it all and behind the thatch of bamboo Sydney’s skyline was the final back-drop cyclorama.  The orchestra was housed beneath the hillock, unseen until the curtain calls. 
Instead of a house, the opening characters are examining the unfolded scale plans of a proposed house.  This made the end of act one difficult as the matrimonial couple walk off into the blissful yonder, and a bedroom which is under construction or worse, not yet built at all.  But rather than saving on costs, act two takes place in a wholly new set with both a demountable Japanese house plus an elevated outhouse.  The purpose of the latter was not clear to this ignorant audience member, but there were goings on apace.  If a servant quarters it would vie for the world’s best placed servant quarters! 
There was a large blow-up sphere mid-harbour to the north which glowed at varying intensities.  It looked rather odd, remaining as it did on the horizon and one might assume it represented a setting sun.  Other special effects included a 30 second burst of wedding fireworks from half a dozen smaller unseen pontoons out in Farm Cove, the bay between us and the Opera House.
The bonze arrived by motor launch while most other stage entrances and exits were by common Sydney livery taxis which drove up on the path in front - naf in my book and about as Japanese as the pizza served in the dining venues.   The blanket advertising implied that saki and sushi would be staples but I could not find them. 
An extraordinary event not to be missed if you are into that sort of thing - and you have the spare cash to spend on it.  But opera it ain't. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..
Our butterfly collection (off topic but fun):