Madama Butterfly


3 Jan 2012

This year I’ve been very lucky, because there have been no production rehearsals or performances between Christmas & New Year – a previously unheard of state of things – so I have had a lovely long time away and have completely forgotten how to work the computer. And when you’re full of turkey and Christmas pud it’s hard to rack up the enthusiasm needed to come back to work…

Now of course, reality intrudes with a bang – delays on the trains mean that one person hasn’t arrived, another is ill and can’t be here for the final studio run-through and things we thought had been arranged before we went away are unravelling.

The technical staff are getting in to the theatre and champing at the bit for the Giulio Cesare set, which they want on stage, but is being used for this morning’s rehearsal; the orchestra (who HAVE been working, giving 2 Viennese New Year concerts) are rehearsing in the Howard Assembly Room; we have the first Cesare stage rehearsals at the end of the week, leading up to the opening in 10 days time; and the Planning and Education Departments want to talk about the future. Oh, and the weather is HORRID.

Hit the ground running? At the moment I’m just about shuffling along. But this is a season of strong women, with our operas Norma, Cesare (Cleopatra is stunning) and Madama Butterfly…so oh well, back to the treadmill.

Happy New Year everybody!

By the way – Giulio Cesare and Norma are both looking and sounding fantastic, so it’s all worth it in the end.

Handel’s Giulio Cesare is inspired by one of the most passionate romances of all time – that between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Opens on Saturday 14th January.

Bellini’s Norma tells the tale of one woman’s struggle to save her people from ruin. Opens on Saturday 28th January.

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is the tale of a Japanese woman who sacrifices everything for love. Opens on Sunday 5th Febraury

Anne Sophie Duprels as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly. Credit: Robert Workman

Butterfly is on the road! After a few weeks in Leeds the whole company is now touring and this week we’re in Newcastle. Last week was Nottingham and next week we’ll be at The Lowry, Salford Quays. It’s always an adventure to take shows around. Lots of trucks, different theatres, different acoustics, different dressing rooms, hotel rooms….

I always have a look at the stage when I get to the new venue, the theatres aren’t the same size so we have to adapt and move things around! Sometimes the space on the side of the stage is really small and you have to be very careful with all the cables on the floor and lightings.

Every night feels like opening night with all these changes! So yes I get nervous! But I feel lucky to have such lovely colleagues and the wonderful stage and back stage crew to make our journey smoother, they prepare everything and are so helpful!

After Salford Quays I’ll get to go home for a few weeks, I haven’t been home for a while so it will be nice and busy! Then I’ll get ready for another run of Butterfly starting in February next year.

Madama Butterfly is at Theatre Royal, Newcastle on Saturday 12 November and at The Lowry, Salford Quays on  16 & 19 November. For more information go here.

Noah Stewart as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly

Just days after the opening night of Madama Butterfly in the Leeds Grand Theatre and the Autumn season is now officially open. There was a wonderful response to Saturday’s performance and with the Howard Assembly Room programme already running and orchestral concerts in Kirklees about to begin, the Company is truly operating at full tilt. The Autumn performance diary lists some 79 events right up to 1st January.

It is often said that in times of constraint the bold get bolder and there are many bold and exciting moments ahead for us this season, including one of the largest and most ambitious new productions in our history: Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades.  Our Music Director Richard Farnes has been campaigning for this for many years, possibly since he began with us some eight years ago, and we are extremely excited to be bringing what we consider to be one of the composer’s most underrated operas to fruition. It is a ‘grand’ opera, with big music and an even bigger cast – an additional chorus of 26 has been brought in to add to our full-time 30 members. And it features an exceptional cast, which includes Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, who received great acclaim for his Peter Grimes, and Dame Josephine Barstow. It also has the exciting twist of being directed by one of the country’s most inspirational theatre directors and a great story-teller himself, Neil Bartlett.

And we return to London this season in an exciting new partnership with the Barbican. We have always maintained a certain presence in the Capital and we are delighted to be returning this season with two operas and a more intimate avant-garde music theatre piece, The Girl I Left Behind Me.

The exceptional revivals on the mainstage are two of our most popular productions in recent years – Madama Butterfly and Ruddigore will take audiences from deep tragedy to comic hilarity, both with wonderful music.

And as for the programme of events and activities in the Howard Assembly Room, we are looking forward to sharing this broader face of Opera North with new and familiar audiences. We have always felt that as a company we have a responsibility to bring more than just opera to people and there is an abundance of work to be enjoyed in this space.

I hope that you dip a toe in our sea of events this season and enjoy whatever you take part in.

Richard Mantle, General Director 

Anne Sophie Duprels as Cio-Cio-San in 2007 production

Opening night is in a few days and the week running up to this big night is always a busy one! Stage and orchestra rehearsals and dress rehearsal, it’s all coming together and it’s the last chance to polish up on all the details and get comfortable with the space and costumes.

I always get nervous…for every show, no matter how many times I’ve been on stage it’s always a challenge. Performing in the geisha costume especially, is not easy at first because of the wooden platform shoes. They are not easy to manage on the ramp and you need to practice to stay balanced all the time. The kimono is actually very comfortable and the fabrics are amazingly beautiful. The heavy white geisha make up does take a long time and Nicola Heath the wonderful make up artist here at Opera North has a lot to do! We have to start getting ready 2 hours before the show starts. All this preparation and transformation help me get into the character and the physicality of a 15 year old Japanese girl.

I’m very much looking forward to the opening night and to share this beautiful music and heart breaking story with the audience.

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

Leeds is the first city out of LondonI have visited and my first impressions were somewhat mixed. News of riots in the UK sparked my family and friends to worry about my safety. Luckily for me the riots did not happen in Leeds, plus I was met by my own personal bodyguard who is best known as Jane Bonner, Opera North’s Company Manager. Standing at five feet six inches tall she immediately took one of my bags and said, “You don’t travel light I see”. I knew instantly that I would enjoy my time with Opera North and in Leeds. Besides Jane’s pleasant welcome, I was also informed by my good friend and friend of Opera North’s Sandy Eddy.Sandy recently performed the role of Carmen with Opera North. I had the good fortune of singing one of my first Don Jose’s with her at Chicago Opera Theater, when she was several months pregnant with Bea, her daughter.

After Jane and I got things squared away at the apartment, we walked back to the offices at Leeds Grand Theatre. As we walked over Leeds Bridge, through what is the biggest weekend party strip in Leeds, I suddenly saw a mirage. That mirage was Nandos. I was first introduced to Nandos when I was performing in a production of Carmen in Opera Africa in Johannesburg and became instantly hooked. We don’t have Nandos in America, so having one that is blocks away from my flat made me smile from ear to ear.

It took about 3 weeks to get fully settled here in Leeds but that’s part of life on the road.  Jane helped square away my gym membership, which is essential for me. It’s important for me to look like the characters I’m playing as best as I can. I’m singing the role of B.F. Pinkerton who is a young, confident and sometimes brash naval officer from America, in Opera North’s revival of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Besides having a truly great cast and technical crew, the production is directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Daniele Rustioni. This role not only marks my UK debut, but my debut of the role of Pinkerton and I am very excited and lucky to have this knockout one-two punch combo!

While also in the UK this fall, I will be doing promotional appearances for my upcoming debut CD, which will be released this spring. Stay tuned for important news and dates!

Madama Butterfly opens on Saturday 17 September. For more information and tickets go here.

For Noah Stewart’s personal blog, click here.

‘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.

Thank you to everyone who submitted answers for ‘Guess the Opera’. The answers are revealed below.

1) ‘I’ve never felt such pure devotion

In all my life before.

I tell myself that this emotion

Will last for ever more!

But then my jealous heart imagines another holds her fast,

While I, poor fool, have no courage to kiss the ground where she has passed.’

Herman tells Tomsky of his love for Lisa in The Queen of Spades

2) ‘Your strength can protect me.

Your smile so honest and so open you tell me things I was quite unaware of. I’m so contented, I’m so contented…

Just love me a little, a very very little.

The little love I ask for is no more than a child needs.’

Cio-Cio-San pleads with Pinkerton in Madama Butterlfy

3) ‘In bygone days I had thy love,

Thou hadst my heart.

But fate, all human vows above

Our lives did part.

By the old love thou hadst for me,

By the fond heart that beat for thee,

By joys that never now can be,

Grant thou prayer!’

Rose Maybud to Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore

Congratulations to CHARLOTTE who was picked at random from all entrants with the correct answer. Please contact julia.lumley@operanorth.co.uk with your details.

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