SFOpera - Flying with Madama Butterfly

Flying with Madama Butterfly

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One sunny afternoon in early spring 2003, I received an invitation to fly with Madama Butterfly. After a few months of consideration, I accepted and my journey designing scenery and costumes for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly began.

I set out in a fog on August 3, 2003. Knowing nothing about opera production, this is how I felt, like I was moving through a heavy fog. I did as much research and random conceptual drawing as possible, and within a year I attended seven different productions of Butterfly across the continental U.S. Slowly the fog began to open up, and I saw some interesting conceptual directions for the opera’s design.

One of the most difficult aspects of the opera for a person more familiar with sculpture and painting, which do not traditionally move around during an exhibition, is that nothing stays the same. There is constant movement in the music, singers’ positions on the stage and vivid lighting variations. All of these elements have to make great sense together in each moment of the performance.

Shortly after I started to develop the costumes, I realized that working on the scenery and costumes simultaneously would make better sense for the total artistic vision, keeping my focus on the unity of the music, singers’ voices, lighting design, and the interpretation of the artistic and stage directors.

This complex collaboration with everyone involved in the production is the total opposite of my familiar experiences as an individual studio artist. It is a new challenge in making an artistic statement for me, full of unknowns.

Several months into the process, I began to have a good understanding of telling Madama Butterfly’s story and the director’s concept for the singers’ movement on stage. This was a great turning point for me and afterwards everything started to fall into position. The design’s conceptual complexity was completed by the final addition of video projections. Images moving and fading in and out gave me the opportunity to orchestrate the element of time visually on stage.

Madama Butterfly has been one of the most difficult challenges and one of the most exciting creative experiences I have had in my life. Maybe I was lucky that I did not have any prior knowledge of opera production. If you have no idea, you have no fear.

I was also fortunate to have an exceptional team with which to collaborate. I have no doubt that the success of my endeavors would not be possible without having had help from this great group of people. Thank you all for giving me this fantastic opportunity to learn additional possibilities in creativity.

Past Casts at San Francisco Opera
Puccini's Theatrical Sensibility in "Madama Butterfly"