Madama Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House

Constrained, cocooned, caught in a moment of desire, Butterfly is incandescent. In her exotic embrace, Pinkerton finds paradise, then carelessly condemns his bride to purgatory. Graeme Murphy’s arresting new production of Madama Butterfly is a contemporary look at Puccini’s alluring heroine. Fragments of film flutter across the stage, creating a dynamic backdrop for Murphy’s vision of Butterfly. He draws on his roots in choreography to capture the grace and gravity of a tale that begins in rapturous love and ends in the cruellest heartbreak. Puccini’s sublime music imbues this ageless story with impossible beauty, from the irrepressible, famous aria ‘One fine day’ to the intense finale.

Two exceptional casts perform throughout the season. Karah Son returns to Sydney, sharing the role of Cio-Cio-San with Mariana Hong. Rosie spoke with Mariana about Opera Australia's digital season, and why Puccini's works are so popular. Read the full interview below:

Mariana Hong

You share the role of Cio-Cio-San, a former geisha who falls in love with an American naval officer and spends years waiting for him to return. What attracted you to this role, and how did you prepare to take on such a huge character?


I really love to play this role because you will see all the journey what she has through 3 years time. From the lovely, innocent young geisha to a woman who loses her child and lover. To play all the roller coaster emotions actually I feel fantastic because some of feelings I have never had or showed in a real life. I read text a lot and put myself in that situation. As much as I can be involved in those scenes, I become a real Butterfly.



All the promotional materials suggest that this production of Madama Butterfly is unlike any previously staged by Opera Australia. What makes this production differ so much from the rest, and why have these changes been made?

This Graeme Murphy’s version of Madama Butterfly is completely different from the other versions which I played earlier including Opera Australia’s. There have been involved lots of modern technologies such as LED screens. This production sets in the future and represents Butterfly of the world. The sets actually see though it. It refers the time from the past, present and future and mirrors each other and reflects also Madama Butterfly herself. Um.. why.. that’s director’s decision that I believe Graeme wants to consider to show Butterfly in the world, not just in Asia. This is our story which happens in everywhere in the world.



Opera Australia has staged many of Puccini’s works, such as Madama Butterfly, La Boheme, and Turandot. Why do you think Puccini’s music and stories are so popular with audiences? What makes his opera so unique?

Puccini’s opera is based on real stories. They are not fairies, king, queens, actually the stories about ourselves. His music is divine as everyone know, and characters are much more familiar to the audience that they can be involved in the story and be touched by. For Butterfly, her character itself make this opera so unique. 



Cio-Cio-San is faced with a huge betrayal in Madama Butterfly, and for much of the story she is waiting for her greatest love to return. How does a story like this translate in 2019, and what can we take from Cio-Cio-San’s strength as a woman?

It is a huge betrayal for her hope, her belief however, it is not a betrayal for Pinkerton unfortunately. He was sincere at that time of marriage but his plan was only for short term. As he said before the wedding he would marry to a real American. If you see any friend does that in 2019, you would say how stupid she is. But unfortunately there are many women do the same thing and believe their lovers will come back. Because we are human and there is not much different last 100 years even though we want to equality between men and women.

I believe her strength comes from sacrifice. Women are strong but mothers are much more stronger. Her strong belief which is she wants her child to have his own father, she believes that would be able to resolve all the matters from inside and outside of the world. When she decides to send her child to his father, it’s not just because she has to obey him, it is because she only thinks her child’s future.



Madama Butterfly marks the start of Opera Australia’s digital season, moving towards a high-tech future of opera. Do you think the use of technology will encourage younger audiences to engage with operas? Does this digital season set a new bar for operas? 

I believe so. To use high tech in the opera, will give more things to see and entertain young audiences. What you see on the screens, actually as directors can expand their ideas more so it gives you more ideas and hints about the story. We are living in new high tech era. Digital tech has been using in other form of arts. I think it’s the right time to embrace and adopt new things in the opera as well. 





Favourite production you have ever seen?

I’ve seen and done many different productions of Madama Butterfly. I really loved to play the one David Freeman’s Madama Butterfly at the Royal Albert Hall.

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I would love to go an island and lie down on the beach. Hamilton island?


Dream show to perform in?

One day ... I dream to perform Salome to play her madness.


Plays, musicals or operas?

Always opera!! Since I was 7, only opera!!


A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

Knitting and reading.

What’s next for you after this show?

I am heading to Adelaide in south Australia to play Madama Butterfly.

Madama Butterfly is currently showing at the Sydney Opera House until August 10, 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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