Madame Butterfly

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The New England Conservatorium will present Opera Australia’s production of Puccini’s masterpiece, Madame Butterfly at Lazenby Hall in Armidale on Thursday, August 9 at 7:30pm.

Opera Australia visits Armidale only once every two years, so this one-night only production is something not to be missed.

Puccini’s popular opera inspired the musical Miss Saigon. It is filled with stunning music, from the lovers’ first rapturous embrace to the intense finale. One of Australia’s greatest theatrical minds, John Bell, directs this English-language production, complete with beautiful costumes and sets. The cast of Madame Butterfly is impressive, with multiple principal artists from Opera Australia, plus a live touring Chamber Orchestra under the baton of conductor Warwick Stengårds. The local Children’s Chorus will be under the direction of Opera Australia’s Regional Children’s Chorus Master, Joshua van Konkelenberg, and choral conductor Leanne Roobol, who directs NECOM’s renowned New England Singers and Cantilena choirs. We spoke with John Bell, to find out more about his vision for Madame Butterfly:

Madame Butterfly was originally set at the end of the 19th Century. What is it about Butterfly that makes it so timeless, even though times have changed?

I have, in fact, changed the setting of it to a more modern setting – setting it in Nagasaki, just at the end of the second World War, during the American occupation. By making it more contemporary in setting, I was quite keen to nudge people into thinking that this wasn’t a fairy tale or an escapist piece; it’s a true story and things that happened in the story are still happening around us today.

I think with a piece like Butterfly, the story is so powerful and compelling. It’s a powerful story and one that’s very timely. People will be quite surprised by how easily they will be able to react to and empathise with what’s happening on stage. That’s the great thing about it. The most beautiful, emotionally captivating music, and yet the story is a very sad one and quite a rueful one.

How do you take audiences on a trip to Japan using only a single set?

The set itself is a very elegant little Japanese house, and most of the Japanese characters are dressed in traditional clothing. We see Goro making an attempt to dress like a westerner, but the fact that Pinkerton is in a US Army uniform gives us the picture; all of that combined will ensure we know where we are.

The opera is performed in English; do you think anything gets lost in translation from the original Italian?

I think any opera is best when it’s performed in its original language, because that’s what the composer had in their head and you have to work pretty hard to get the same quality into the words in English. What you gain though, is an immediate response and recognition from the audience. It’s all there for them in fairly simple English. When we’re doing these regional tours to audiences that perhaps haven’t seen much opera and don’t necessarily know the piece, it’s a great advantage.

What advice do you give to a first-time opera goer? I would say if you can get hold of a recording before you come along and get familiar with the music, you’ll enjoy hearing it again when it’s live. If you get to know the tunes a bit before you come, you’ll feel a great glow of satisfaction when you hear it live. I wouldn’t worry about brushing up on the story, but get to love the music before you come. Also, I think it’s always advisable to bring tissues and also something to stop you coughing – that’s always a great help as well.

At each stop along the regional tour, a local children’s chorus will join the Opera Australia cast on stage. What does it take to bring these young people on board and make them part of the story?

I think it’s a great thing that the local kids can get involved. When Pinkerton first arrives, the kids can all run on with him, hugely excited to have the American in town, carrying his luggage, welcoming him to Nagasaki. They’ll come back in the wedding scene to watch and react with applause and then with horror when The Bonze charges in and then again in the “Humming Chorus”, and I’ll get the choreographer to give them a stately little dance to do. So I think they’ll have a good time.


Don’t miss your chance to see Madame Butterfly in its one-night-only performance on Thursday 9 August at Lazenby Hall, University of New England at 7:30pm.

Tickets are on sale now at or phone: 6788 2137.

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