A few days ago I had never been to the Opera, so when the chance came I jumped on it! The problem was that I had no idea what to do – how to dress, how to act, what to bring and all that jazz. Luckily for me, Handa’s Madama Butterfly is made with the Opera beginner in mind, where 46% of the audience are first-timers! Spanish theatre company La Fura dels Baus has headed a production that brings the action of today into the sophistication of classic opera. With three weeks and over 600 staff, the harbor-front site is transformed into an exquisite Japanese garden on top of the water.
A cast of 60 from 11 different countries brings the splendor of the opera outdoors with fireworks, a giant sun and moon rising from the Harbour and, of course, Giacomo Puccini’s stunning music. What’s more, this giant pop-up theatre is surrounded by fine dining in the tree tops, and lavishly themed champagne bars and sunset decks. If you haven’t been to the opera, now is definitely the time to go! And so you can play the part of the sophisticated opera connoisseur more successfully than I did, here’s a look at how to ensure you have smooth sailing:
The entire opera is in Italian. Yes. I did not understand a single word. There are subtitles that will run at the bottom of the stage during the production, but to really understand the context of the story, the best thing to do is pre-read the synopsis which you can easily find online. This is so you can properly sit back, enjoy the crescendos of the stage, and still know what’s going on without juggling your eyes between the words and the so-much-more-worthy action on stage.
What to Wear
Usually for the opera the norm is full-blown red carpet fashion. However, we’re in Australia, we’re much more laidback. As such, semi-formal, and even smart casual, is appropriate if you’re not attending an event prior to the show. That being said, it’s a wonderful excuse to dress up and you will only garner impressed ‘they-must-be-opera-aficionados’ looks from everyone else. Whichever fashion direction you choose to align with, you must, I repeat, YOU MUST bring a nice coat to keep you warm. Although it makes for impressive stage aesthetics when the wind blows, you won’t feel so impressive when you’re shaking as much as the vibrato in the night air.
There are a range of options to suit every budget, from the Adina Garden Bar’s noodles and fried chicken buns to the Northern Cantina food stalls of lighter citrus ponzu oysters and beautiful popcorn shrimp, and heavier BBQ miso salmon and Japanese curry to name but a few.
For the ultimate opera experience, luxury dining is essential. The Platinum Lounge is a stroll through tree-tops along the red carpet to a precocious room topped with Japanese oil-paper umbrellas.
A gentle scattering of mini zen gardens across the table tops is a reminder of the Japanese flair coloured through their dishes. Fresh Catering’s head chef Marco Adler briefed us on our feast of the senses alongside the catering company’s director Peter McCloskey. With accolades such as Caterer of the Year 2013 and Best Caterer at a Major Event 2013, their prestige could only be matched with light to medium bodied glasses of premium Tyrell’s Wine.
There’s a huge focus on delicacy that matches the tender flavours with the fragility of love in Madama Butterfly. The first-class waitstaff here will also address you as ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’, don’t be taken aback, act cool. I was lucky enough to share the table with some of Sydney’s elite food writers, and boy were we excited to dig into our three course banquet.
We started with the Tea Braised Chicken and Soybean Salad with Saffron Emulsion, which came out like a splash of colour on a painting. The subtle taste of the chicken mingled with the light greens and pickled radish with just enough creamy saffron emulsion to blend the flavours together. This was served with Tyrell’s Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon, an iconic Hunter Valley white wine that was gentle enough to meld with the flavours.
The toughest decision of the night was no doubt between the three mains. I chose the Roasted Blue Eye Cod with Watercress and Silken Tofu which had this amazing miso inspired taste and fell apart with the slightest touch. The cloud ear gave a nice crunch and a heavier flavour that complemented the tofu nicely. I would’ve loved for the cod to be a bit more moist, but combining the elements of the dish together gave it more personality than any one ingredient itself.
The Miso Marinated Beef Fillet on Bok Choy and Enoki Mushrooms gave me a bit of food envy as I watched my table mates slice it open to reveal gorgeously medium rare colour. If the beef was as tender as it looked, it would’ve tasted perfect with Tyrell’s Lunatiq Heathcote Shiraz.
The Ma Po Eggplant on Daikon Radish Salad with Spinach and Sesame Dressing, like my cod, were also served with watercress and cloud ear to provide a bit of a crunch. Sesame dressing is always beautiful with salad, while the eggplants were cooked to a golden colour and wonderfully spiced, which actually left the wasabi mayonnaise a little lonely and superfluous.
The Decadent Chocolate and Ginger Mousse with Praline Feuilletine was just rich enough to linger after the meal. This would have completely won me over if the ginger notes were stronger, to add a bit of character to this crispy sweetness.
I ended my meal with the Selection of Cheese, Seaweed Lavosh and Crackers with a plate of cheddar, white mould, and blue. I much preferred them served on the water crackers with the jam, you can never really go wrong with cheese! Now I’m quite a slow eater, and by the time I was three bites into my cheese the reminder for the start of opera was ringing. This next tip is important enough to warrant a paragraph of its own:
Be on time!
The opera waits for no one, and if you don’t make it into your seats before last call, you won’t be let in until intermission. The sweet sounds of opera just aren’t the same when you can’t see them singing – or the subtitles for that matter. Of course, I hastily made a cheese and cracker triple sandwich to accompany me to my seat. We almost brought our glasses of wine with us, but for safety reasons, no glass is allowed inside.
The general etiquette is that you stay silent, and as still as you can, for the duration of the performance. There are three moments the audience will clap: when the conductor walks onto the podium under the stage, at the end of a particularly fancy aria (song), and at the end of the act. The easiest way is to follow the audience around you – power in the crowd.
Lights and Camera
There is no flash photography allowed, likewise, it’s frowned upon to frequently check your phone as the light is distracting. You don’t want the staff to shine a torch on you and tell you to stop, after all, we’re cultured people now!
If you’ve chosen to have intermission drinks, I would suggest you make your way as quick as you can. Why? Food goes quickly, get it and get it soon. Although Fresh Catering brings out plates and plates of food, it never seemed to be enough for the hungry audience. It’s also an open bar, with a range of Tyrell’s Wines and Spellegrino sparkling drinks.
Now, the first act lasts about an hour, and after an hour of such excitement there is one thing that many people will have in common. The pressing need to visit the bathroom. What you’ll have to do here is either go early or late, so as to avoid the lines of your likeminded companions.
Like the beginning of the opera, a sound will play to remind you to reach your seats. You know the drill, find your seats and enjoy.
The show has finished! And what an incredible performance it was. At this point, everyone will be clapping and will not stop, because now is the time for the final applause. This is your chance to show your appreciation for the hard work of everyone in the opera, and really means a lot to them. The minor performers will come first, as the applause gets louder and louder, the main stars will come out, and finally, the conductor. If you really loved it, you can also stand up for a standing ovation and be as let out all your suppressed cheers and yells from your silence before.
When the house lights come up, it’s time to go, ending the note almost as if it were a dream of wining, dining, reclining, and redefining. Until the next time!
Handa Opera’s Madama Butterfly will be playing until April 12, 2014. Opera tickets start from $79 and can be purchased both online. The Platinum Club Dining option is $250 per person and includes the three-course dinner with drinks that were pictured above. Interval drinks and catering are an additional $50 and will have the canapés coming in constant rotation. You won’t have to buy the opera tickets and dining options at the same time, but bookings for the Platinum Club will have to be made at least two days in advance.
Photos without the I Ate My Way Through logo are by Fresh Catering and James Morgan
I Ate My Way Through attended the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and Platinum Club experience as a guest of Fresh Catering, Opera Australia and Tyrell’s Wines, with thanks to Publicity Partners.