‘Everyday I’m shuffling…’

Anne Sophie Duprels rehearses bowing in full kimono

Madama Butterfly is in the second week of rehearsals. Operatic voices are radiating from the corridor and the buzz of the approaching Autumn season is here. Placing myself inconspicuously amidst rehearsals I got a sneak peek of what’s in store. The Opera North rehearsal room is transformed into the Madama Butterfly set, transporting the cast into the minimalist Japanese surroundings. Everyone is in their everyday clothes with exception of the odd kimono slung around shoulders, Japanese hats and sandals. Anne Sophie Duprels (Cio-Cio-San) and Ann Taylor (Suzuki) try to keep their balance on ‘geta’ shoes, traditional Japanese wooden platform shoes worn by women to keep their long and expensive kimonos off the floor. The singers wear the ‘geta’ shoes in rehearsals in order to feel comfortable walking and performing in them. The set of Madama Butterfly has a steep incline which Anne Sophie Duprels must stand on and walk up, a task I imagine similar to attempting to walk up a hill whilst trying on your mum’s shoes when you were younger.

Director Tim Albery shows Noah Stewart (Pinkerton) how to shuffle

Director, Tim Albery is very involved in the rehearsals, he dips in and out showing the singers where to stand, demonstrating how to bow correctly, hands on hips, palms flat and a slight tip forward keeping the back straight to ensure it is as accurate to Japanese culture as possible. A sight I never thought I’d see, a grown man showing another grown man how to shuffle across stage in the style of a geisha girl. Pretending to carry a tray with straight arms, one foot in front of the other but barely losing contact with the floor, Tim Albery shuffled across the set closely followed by the new, young American tenor Noah Stewart (Pinkerton), who mimics the geisha shuffle in the production. Stage managers stand in for absent chorus members carrying trays of drinks and marking out the correct positions, props supervisors study which props must be on stage at what time and what scene changes must be made, scribbles on the score are made continuously and tiny sections of scenes are rehearsed over and over until perfect. Amongst all the rehearsal rush, alterations and repetitions it is still clear that everyone there is excited, enthusiastic and passionate about the piece, one of Puccini’s most famous and loved operas. The next stage for rehearsals is to join together with the chorus and orchestra before rehearsals move to the stage next week.  

Madama Butterfly opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 17 September. For more information go here.