St James Theatre 2, Wellington

11/05/2013 - 18/05/2013

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

18/04/2013 - 28/04/2013

Production Details

Opera star returns as Butterfly 

Australian soprano Antoinette Halloran won the praise of critics and audiences in 2008 when she performed the role of Mimi in New Zealand Opera’s production of La bohème.

Next month she’s back on New Zealand stages to sing what she describes as “the most demanding yet most beautiful soprano role ever created,” the role of Cio-Cio San (Butterfly) in NZ Opera’s new production of Madame Butterfly.

“Marrying divine composition with heart-breaking drama, this is a role that I feel so blessed to portray,” Halloran says. “It is an honour to take the audience into Butterfly’s world and tell her tragic tale.”

Featuring the famous ‘Humming Chorus’ and ‘One Fine Day’, Madame Butterfly consistently ranks in the Top 10 of most performed operas worldwide. “For good reason,” Halloran says. “It is sublime in every way. There is no need of an edit. Not a dull moment. It is opera that hopefully will leave audiences weeping, yet hungry for more – evangelical opera. Where do I feel it sits in the Top 10? I would be so bold as to say it is Number 1!”

Aidan Lang, General Director of NZ Opera, says Madame Butterfly is one of the great operas of the repertoire, showing off the art form at its very best. “And Cio-Cio San and Lieutenant Pinkerton are among the world’s most loved operatic couples,” he says. “We’re delighted to have Antoinette performing with us again and feel sure that she and Italy’s hot young tenor, Piero Pretti, will be an electrifying couple on stage, taking this powerful love story to another level.”

Alongside Antoinette Halloran and Piero Pretti are English baritone Peter Savidge as Sharpless and American/English mezzo soprano Lucy Schaufer as Suzuki. Taking smaller principal roles are New Zealanders Jared Holt (baritone – Prince Yamadori), James Benjamin Rodgers (tenor – Goro), Richard Green (bass – The Bonze), Bianca Andrew (mezzo soprano – Kate Pinkerton), and basses Edward Laurenson and Kieran Rayner in the shared roles of Imperial Commissioner and Official Registrar.

Madame Butterfly is directed, designed and lit by award-winning Australians, Kate Cherry, Christina Smith and Matt Scott respectively. Conducted by Swedish maestro Tobias Ringborg, it is accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington and features the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus. It is sung in Italian with English surtitles.


Auckland – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
18, 20, 24, 26 April – 7:30pm; 28 April – 2:30pm

Wellington – St James Theatre
11, 16, 18 May – 7:30pm; 14 May – 6:00pm

Single Tickets: $49.50 to $189.50.
Concessions available for benefactors, senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

Bookings: NZ Opera Box Office, Tel 0800 NZOPERA/696 737,
(09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:

Auckland: The Edge, Tel 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842)

Wellington: Ticketek, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538)

Further information: 

Pinkerton:  PIERO PRETTI 
Sharpless:  PETER SAVIDGE 
Prince Yamadori:  JARED HOLT 
Kate Pinkerton:  BIANCA ANDREW 

Accompanied by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington 

Featuring the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus 

Internally passionate yet externally restrained

Review by Pepe Becker 13th May 2013

This exquisite production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is what one might call a full-emotion-immersion experience: all elements weave together in such a way that the impact of the story speaks directly through the music, filling the heart of the listener with empathy.

Set in Nagasaki at the turn of the 20th Century, the tragic story of a young geisha’s love and loss is brought to life in a most intimate way by: Australian director Kate Cherry and her creative team (assistant director Jacqueline Coats, production designer Christina Smith and lighting designer Matt Scott); an outstanding cast of soloists drawn from Australia, Italy, England, the U.S. and New Zealand; the polished and dedicated Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus and the wonderful Orchestra Wellington.

The audience is drawn in immediately by the simple yet beautifully-detailed set. Traditional-looking Japanese screens are moved subtly and unobtrusively by members of the cast to create various indoor and outdoor spaces as the drama unfolds from scene to scene, with equally traditional-looking lattice framing above which (in retrospect) could be seen to symbolise both the protection of and the caging of the beautiful ‘Butterfly’ within.

The combination of these elements with clever effects such as shadow lighting as characters move behind the screens, intricate and authentic costumes (sourced from Japan), and a stunningly glorious contrast from ‘black and white’ to ‘full colour’ – when Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly) first appears, with an entourage of other young kimono-clad geisha, against a bright and sunny Spring backdrop just before the wedding scene – has one inwardly gasping with delight. 

Internally passionate yet externally restrained, the general feel of the presentation – in terms of acting, singing, musical timing, gesture and movement – is cohesive, genuine and utterly apt. Even the off-stage chorus, barely audible at first, ties in with the hidden/unspoken aspects of the society in which the young Butterfly lives, loves … and ultimately dies.

Indeed, the age old themes of love and death – still as relevant today as they were in the days when the ingenious Italian poets of the 15th & 16th centuries such as Petrarch, Tasso and Guarini had their words set to music by the likes of Monteverdi and other composers in the early 17th Century – are well-expressed in this story, and beautifully and poignantly portrayed by the two lead singers. Butterfly’s exclamation that she loves Pinkerton so much she feels as if she might die, followed by Pinkerton’s response that “love doesn’t bring death”, is at once passionate and ironically prophetic.

Again the use of screens enhances the subtle and sensuous interaction of the couple on their wedding night, and the exquisite moments of anticipation before they kiss are full of chemistry – visibly and audibly. Antoinette Halloran’s final ecstatic high note in the love scene is one of several that sends chills up my spine …

Australian-born Halloran is the star of the show, and her robust, steely, yet warm and vulnerable soprano is convincing and moving throughout the myriad changing emotions Butterfly undergoes in this classic tale of love’s extremes. She brings a humanness to her role which, along with a dash of innocent humour at times, is very endearing. Piero Pretti plays the dashing and captivating U.S. naval officer Pinkerton with intensity and integrity, his warm, ringing tenor a powerful match with Halloran’s multi-coloured voice. 

The acting and singing of other roles is also exemplary. English baritone Peter Savidge’s empathetic and sincere portrayal, in voice and gesture, of the Consul, Sharpless, and Wellington-born James Benjamin Rodger’s true-voiced and brilliantly-characterised Goro are particular highlights for me.

US-born Lucy Schaufer as Cio-Cio San’s handmaiden Suzuki is vocally a good match with Halloran – the few phrases they sing together in thirds, whilst scattering flower petals, are lovely – and Schaufer’s tonal expression appropriately varies between concerned and caring, though her physical movements are to my eyes a little too anxious at times.

In the remaining five smaller roles, all played by New Zealanders, Richard Green as The Bonze (Cio-Cio’s uncle, family representative and priest), Jared Holt as the hapless suitor Prince Yamadori, Bianca Andrew as Pinkerton’s American wife, Kieran Rayner as The Imperial Commissioner and Edward Laurenson as The Official Registrar, all sing convincingly, immediately claiming their characters even though they each appear only briefly: a task not easy to achieve but one well-executed by all.

I am also impressed by the sustained presence of Kate Pinkerton in the background, not showing her face directly to the audience for some time, thus highlighting the awkward sadness of the impending situation, and Bianca Andrew’s elegant, initially impervious then sympathetic character is particularly well acted.

Special mention must go to young Finn Bowden, who appears as Butterfly’s young son and whose innocent vulnerability and interactions with his mother and Suzuki are an absolute delight. 

The highly-skilled support musicians – that is to say, the Wellington branch of the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus, and Orchestra Wellington – are also to be commended for their always-convincing and well-integrated team work. Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg draws many dynamic changes and beautifully-phrased, rich sonorities from the orchestra, and the chorus members – well-rehearsed by Michael Vinten – are excellent. Although much of the chorus work is sung from off-stage, the timing and tuning is good, and when on-stage their commentary is attentive and natural.

Only once did I notice a slight (possibly) out-of-sync moment (during the crowd’s admonishing cries of “O, Cio-Cio San!” when Butterfly has denounced her family’s religion in favour of Christianity), but even that would be convincing in the rabble-rousing context, and there are many examples of supreme beauty and control, such as in the famous melancholic ‘humming chorus’, the atmosphere highlighted by the vigilistic holding of lanterns. 

On the face of it, Italian Romantic-era opera, with all its fervour and passion, and the late 19th-Century Japanese society in which this story is set, with all its honour-bound reserve, would seem at odds. Yet Puccini’s sensitive scoring and this production’s equally sensitive traditional rendition of it, with avid attention to every musical and visual nuance, produce a direct and universal hit for any era – and in this particular , and global cultural climate, it certainly is!

I imagine most will find it hard (as I did) to keep a dry eye and an un-lumpy throat towards the end of the opera: Halloran’s achingly poignant portrayal of Butterfly’s last moments with her child is very moving, especially for mothers, but no-doubt for all who have truly loved. 

I strongly recommend seeing this opera, even if you have seen it many times before, as it is a timely and beautiful reminder that although life is never perfect, there is much beauty and love to be found in it, even if fleetingly… 


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Sellout production ticks all the boxes

Review by John Button 13th May 2013

Based on a story by John Luther Long and a play by David Belasco, Puccini’s three-act opera is the ultimate tear-jerker and one of the most popular operas in the repertoire.

But, beneath the surface, there are deeper issues; issues of feminism, imperialism and basic social standards. It had the most disastrous of premieres in 1904 but survived so well that opera companies schedule it to bolster finances, and this production is completely sold out.

And it deserves that support. [More]


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Review by Penny Dodd 19th Apr 2013

NZ Opera has turned on a superb, classy production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The set is restrained, with Shoji screens separating rooms in a Japanese house, and opening up to reveal a beautiful garden. Production designer Christina Smith creates a feeling of enclosure, of a sheltered restricted existence, which only opens up to the full Aotea stage in the last tragic moments.

Costuming is elegant and beautiful, from Butterfly’s robes, Pinkerton’s immaculate uniform, Yamadori and the Bonze resplendent in traditional attire, and Mrs Pinkerton elegant and remote in her cream Edwardian ensemble with hat that reveals only half her face. The lighting (Matt Scott) is particularly good, with bold dramatic touches signifying the passions as they play out. 

Butterfly is a delightful young geisha of 15, who enters into a ‘temporary marriage’ with an American Naval Officer. The tragedy unfolds as he returns to America, as he was always going to, and naïve but faithful Butterfly staunchly waits for his return, becoming more and more alienated from her family and culture, blindly, devotedly clinging to the hope that her loyalty will be rewarded. She ultimately loses everything, including the son she had with Pinkerton, and chooses death at her own hand: “It is better to die an honourable death than live a life of dishonour.” Pinkerton repents too late.

The opera belongs to Butterfly, the geisha Cio Cio San, sung by Antoinette Halloran. ‘Un bel di vedremo’, the most famous of Puccini arias, is sublime, from its opening notes of pure simplicity to its closing passionate declamation, and sounds as fresh as the day it was composed. Miss Halloran’s characterisation from the young geisha, to the disappointed but fiercely principled mother was focused and compelling. 

Piero Pretti, in fine voice, makes a convincing Pinkerton; blithely unaware, self absorbed, a good looking cad, with no nobility or redeeming feature. It is now fashionable to boo Pinkerton in the curtain call, but it is a shame to rob the singer of his due for performing so superbly. 

Lucy Shaufer, a fierce and devoted Suzuki, and Peter Savidge as the unheeded voice of reason, Consul Sharpless, deliver fine and strong performances. James Benjamin Rodgers impresses as Goro, as do Richard Green as The Bonze, and Jared Holt as Prince Yamadori. 

It is great to see NZ Opera’s Emerging Artists Bianca Andrew and Edward Laurenson, taking on their singing roles with great success.

Maestro Tobias Ringborg conducts a glorious sounding APO. The orchestra sounds as if it is relishing all the beautiful opportunities for stretching out in the gorgeous melodies, rising to the occasion with passionate fire, and wrenching our hearts with the music’s forebodings of tragedy. The solo violin is exceptional, as are the detailed flute ensembles, rich string section work, and powerful brass. The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus, under John Rosser, again impresses with their fine toned, disciplined chorus work, particularly in the exquisite ‘Humming Chorus’.

The opening night performance was preceded by a short speech from Robbie Macrae, Director, Centre for Performing Arts at The Edge, marking the occasion as the first opera in the completed refurbished ASB Theatre auditorium. The improvement to the acoustics is remarkable, and very welcome. The orchestra sounds amazing, such richness, detail and clarity of sound, which no doubt contributes to their committed performance.

The opera singers, when blocked at the front of the stage, are beautifully audible, benefitting well from the improved reflection of sound into the auditorium. Unfortunately as they move upstage the balance is not as good, and they are sometimes swamped.

I recall this happened less in the previous NZ Opera production, Rigoletto, which had the benefit of a substantial and highly sound-reflective set. Shoji screens and layered gauzes cannot bounce sound back out into the auditorium to the same extent.

All in all, the acoustical improvements in the theatre are a great success. I am aware of an increased presence of the sound, as a result of improved reflectivity and enhanced reverberation. When the staging is at its best you now feel surrounded, enveloped by the music, both vocal and orchestral, swept along in the passion and pathos, an experience a good evening at the opera should deliver.

Future opera set designers can assist in ensuring this is the new norm in this theatre by playing their part in the aural experience, not just the visual, and design sets that serve the singers (and the audience), particularly in upstage positions. I’m sure our very capable Acoustic Consultants would be keen to collaborate. 


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Breathtakingly beautiful

Review by Simon Wilson 19th Apr 2013

There are fashions in violence – the Pulp Fiction gun held sideways came and went, and now, courtesy of Game of Thrones, there’s the sword slipped vertically inside the neck of the armour and run down into the body. Brutal. NZ Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly is up with that fashion, with its climactic act of violence propelling you quite unexpectedly into the horror of the moment. 

Just one of its many great achievements. And yet, that moment aside, this is a story so unfashionable, it’s almost nonsensical to tell it today. Cio-Cio San (“Butterfly”) is a victim: a young geisha who falls in love with a callous rogue called Pinkerton from the US Navy, is betrayed by him, lives in denial about it and comes to a bad end. If you were inventing the story afresh, the whole point would be to add a healthy dose of revenge. [More


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