Good opera is an experience rather than just a show, and none more so than Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s surreal and magical Madama Butterfly.

From the moment you enter the outdoor theatre in the Domain through traditional red Japanese gates the stage is set. Wander through the garden dining area lit by lanterns, take your seat with the incredible view – to one side the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney and to the other the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – and watch the moon rise over the wedding of Madama Butterfly.

The subtitles below the stage translate the songs: a Japanese girl is sold as a wife to an American officer, falls deeply in love with him and is rejected by her family. He leaves shortly after the wedding and she waits faithfully for three years. When he finally returns, he is accompanied by his American wife and they want to take Butterfly’s son and raise him in America.

The opera was originally written in 1904 by Giacomo Puccini but it feels classic rather than dated, thanks to contemporary costuming and translation, and sits well with today’s audience – after all, love stories are pretty timeless.

The set is inspired; characters arrive on stage by boat or taxi, a sun rises out of the harbour and a whole house is actually constructed onstage during the intermission. To celebrate the wedding, they even have fireworks explode from behind the bamboo grove.

If I must be honest, the intermission was a little long (I suppose they did have to build a house) and the second half drags slightly as Madama Butterfly waits for her husband, but it’s easy enough to lose track of time and let the incredible voices, stunning design and classic music sweep you away to Nagasaki where a beautiful, fragile Butterfly dies of a broken heart.

4/5 stars

Madama Butterflyis on until April 13.

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