Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

23/07/2015 - 01/08/2015

Production Details

Opera homecoming 

New Zealand Opera celebrates its Christchurch connection with a return to the Isaac Theatre Royal for its own acclaimed, emotionally charged production of Madama Butterfly.  This elegant staging of the Puccini opera was a sell-out when it debuted in Auckland and Wellington in 2013, and now Christchurch again has a venue well suited to the beauty of Butterfly.

“We’ve come home” is how NZ Opera general director Stuart Maunder admits to feeling about the five-night season beginning on 23 July. Indeed this production has the flavour of a homecoming all round. Butterfly has brought home from Germany former Canterbury Opera singer Angus Wood, in the role of the cad Pinkerton, and Christchurch-born Jared Holt as Sharpless. New Zealand mezzo Kristin Darragh also comes home from Germany, while Wellington-raised James Rodgers returns from New York.

Dunedin-raised Robert Tucker and Dunedin-born Martin Snell (now based in Switzerland) are also  home in the Mainland for in their respective roles of Prince Yamadori and Butterfly’s fearsome uncle, The Bonze.

The Christchurch Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus is at full strength, with 32 singers creating the silken sea of sound that is so hauntingly familiar in the Humming Chorus.  NZ Opera Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists Chelsea Dolman / Emily Scott, and Jarvis Dams / Christian Thurston share roles, and also contribute to the chorus.

Leading the strong cast is acclaimed French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels. The international press is peppered with superlatives for her virtuosic performances as Butterfly (Cio-Cio San). Last year her ownership of the role for Opera North had The British Sunday Times applauding “Duprels throws her body and soul into her music” and the critic for the Daily Telegraph wrote “Madama Butterfly reduced me to jelly”. The Times critic enthused “Anne Sophie Duprels’ singing blazes with more and more passion as the evening progresses”.

When the prima donna sang the role in London in 2013 (for Opera Holland Park) the Independent on Sunday wrote “Duprels’ vocal lustre, physical energy, candour and sophistication leave you breathless”.

“This truly is one of the most beautiful productions ever presented by this company,” says Stuart Maunder, “and we are privileged to have a star of the world stage leading a rich cast of returning New Zealanders in this exquisite Kate Cherry production.  We invite Christchurch to support the return home of opera to the warmth and welcome of the Isaac Theatre Royal.”

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
23, 25, 30 July, 1 August 2015 at 7.30pm
28 July 2015 at 6.30pm 
Bookings: 03 379 8899 or 0800 TICKETEK (842 538) –


Cio-Cio San [Butterfly] – Anne Sophie Duprels
Pinkerton – Angus Wood
Suzuki – Kristin Darragh
Sharpless – Jared Holt
Goro – James Rodgers
Prince Yamadori – Robert Tucker
The Bonze – Martin Snell
Kate Pinkerton – Chelsea Dolman / Emily Scott
Imperial Commissioner – Jarvis Dams / Christian Thurston
Official Registrar – Nigel Withington

Accompanied by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.  
Featuring the Freemasons    Chorus. Sung in Italian with English surtitles.
A New Zealand Opera production.


Conductor – Francesco Pasqualetti
Director – Kate Cherry
Restage Director – Jacqueline Coats
Production Designer – Christina Smith
Lighting Designer – Matt Scott 

Theatre , Opera ,

Satisfying on all levels

Review by Naomi van den Broek 24th Jul 2015

Attending a performance of a Puccini opera is like a game of emotional Russian roulette: it’s beautiful, lush, transcendent… but ultimately you know it will end in someone’s heart being ripped still-beating from their chest. You just hope it’s not yours.

Christchurch audiences are no doubt delighted to be attending this performance of Madama Butterfly in the newly reopened Isaac Theatre Royal. It certainly adds a sense of occasion to an opening night, but even more, the beautiful setting enhances this striking production that NZ Opera staged in 2013 elsewhere in the country. 

As the audience we are knowing witnesses to the inequality of the relationship between Pinkerton and Butterfly. He is an opportunistic foreigner taking advantage of laws which allow him to become an owner for 99 years with the option to exit each month. He applies this to both real estate and women. Butterfly, however, loves Pinkerton and sacrifices her beliefs and her family to be with him in what she considers a true marriage.

The elegant majesty of the set is used to great effect (although a little loud in places!) throughout. The beautiful ‘paper’ doors not only provide an excellent canvas for Matt Scott’s outstanding lighting design, but also act as a kind of cage in which the beautiful Butterfly is trapped. There are some unforgettable visual moments, such as Butterfly waiting for Pinkerton at the end of Act II while Suzuki and Sorrow sleep. The use of the lanterns, and the petals and tinsel that drop from the ceiling also make for some very arresting moments, which beautifully illustrate the text as it is being sung.

NZ Opera has assembled an excellent cast with more than a nod to the South Island’s legacy of producing great vocal talent. Anne Sophie Duprels as Butterfly delivers an outstanding performance which earns her a well deserved ovation for the opera’s most famous aria Un bel dì.

The ‘Flower Duet’ – Il cannone del porto! – performed by Suzuki (Kristin Darragh) and Butterfly is also a highlight. Darragh’s characterisation of the faithful maid Suzuki is appealing in its understated intensity.

Martin Snell is charismatic in his portrayal of Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze, and his renunciation of Butterfly in Act I is captivating and commanding. Jared Holt as Sharpless convincingly portrays a man caught between custom and compassion. He performs with dignity and restraint.

While the chorus do not have a huge role to play in this opera, they do get to deliver one of the most haunting parts of the piece, Coro a bocca chiusa, the ‘Humming Chorus’. This cleverly composed vigil is beautifully staged and performed. 

The standout performance of the evening is Angus Wood as Pinkerton. He portrays Pinkerton as charismatic but entitled, out to get the best of what he can. From his first entrance he holds the stage and his vocal performance is rich, strong, and exhilarating.

Wood gives us a performance that allows us to understand why Butterfly falls so deeply in love with him, not realising that he does not return or warrant the depth of her loyalty and affection. Their long duet at the end of Act I and Butterfly emerging from the cocoon of her wedding dress is beautiful and entrancing.

Madama Butterfly feels surprisingly modern for an opera that was written over 100 years ago. The clash of cultural values and the price Butterfly pays for her attempt to assimilate to Pinkerton’s world are themes that feel very current. Butterfly is ultimately a fragile commodity pinned to the chest of a navy man like one of his many other medals.   

NZ Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly is satisfying on all levels and deserves the rapturous applause it received from its opening night crowd.


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