Opera Machine

Project description

Public presentation of a new opera that takes Puccini’s Madame Butterfly as its staring point. The opera was premiered at the old Limehouse Town Hall a large disused building with the audience sat very close to the performers. The cast included an asylum seeker chorus.

Aim and outcome of the project

To create a powerful new work that explored the narrative around Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, reimagining the story in relation to the 2nd world war. Clearly the story has been the
subject of some criticisim with its representation of Cho Cho san as a somewhat passive victim, she has a status in cultural memory as an icon of gentle femininity and loss, the sad victim womanhowever in this case she was represented as a powerful character, her suffering more visceral. The following 2 specific experiences influenced the production:
1. The director seeing an opera during rehearsal in an informal rehearsal space and then seeing the same opera on stage in full costume – the vivid quality of the performance and the powerful experience of being close to the singers in the rehearsal was lost in the more formal setting and costumes in a theatre.
2. During research for a previous production, ‘the Consul’ the Director became interested in running workshops with asylum seekers to better understand the content of the play and to test out working directly with asylum seekers in the performance. This was supported by the lottery fund and proved a very powerful experience. The Director learnt a great deal from this interaction and combined with years of experience as a tutor helped to develop a toolkit to enable the asylum seekers to gain the confidence and skills they needed to form their own individual approaches to performance. This project originally conceived as a one off became an important aspect of future work and was at the heart of the Finding Butterfly project.

How was the project innovative?

This production brought together professional singers and musicians with a cast of asylum seekers and a theatre director who has worked across a range of both ‘conventional’ theatre and more participatory and immersive projects. The individual participants came from many different areas of the world with very different life stories and experiences. This enabled us to confront the narrative and the genre in a fresh and inventive way employing participatory working methods to engage the whole group in a creative and open way.

How is the project linked to the theme of 20th century European memory?

The project relates to the aftermath of the 2nd World War. It references an important and popular opera by Puccini written in 1903 that plays a key role in the history of European musical theatre. The opera has had an influence on Western perceptions of Japanese culture that persist to this day.

Links to the project sources