25 Jul 2015

Opera restored to Isaac Theatre

8:00 am on 25 July 2015

Christchurch opera-lovers can look forward to more productions at the restored Isaac Theatre Royal, with NZ Opera planning at least one major opera at the theatre every year until 2020.

NZ Opera's production of Madama Butterfly premiered at the theatre on Thursday; the first opera to be performed at the theatre since Southern Opera's production of The Magic Flute in 2009.

New Zealand Opera's production of Madame Butterfly.

New Zealand Opera's production of Madame Butterfly. Photo: Neil Mackenzie

Since the Canterbury earthquakes NZ Opera productions have been performed at Horncastle Arena, a multi-purpose indoor stadium that lacked the atmosphere or acoustics desired for the lavish performances.

The Isaac Theatre Royal opened in 1908 and was severely damaged in the February 2011 earthquake, but was rebuilt in its original Edwardian style, at a cost of $40 million.

The theatre has held numerous shows and performances since its opening last year, but Madama Butterfly is the first NZ Opera production to be held there.

Kristin Darragh, a mezzo soprano who plays Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, said it was a very good opening night.

"The atmosphere is part of the magic and the theatre is so beautiful. The size makes it intimate, the acoustics are lovely. It's part of the whole experience to be sitting in that dark, warm cosy place that's designed to let you lose yourself in that magical art form.

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch.

The restored Isaac Theatre Royal Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"The big summer festivals in Europe that are on lakes and thousands of people, or in Sydney, those are different, they are more spectacles and they have their own flavour but I think there is a magic in the theatre that I think is wonderful and Christchurch now has it back.

"It felt very special to be part of the first opera going back in there, a really lovely experience.''

Darragh, who is from Auckland, joined the NZ Opera chorus when she was 19 before eventually gaining a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London several years later.

The theatre's facade in April 2013.

The theatre's facade in April 2013. Photo: Isaac Theatre Royal

She has been on a three year full-time contract in Germany with an opera house, the only country that offers those types of contracts for opera singers, but has chosen not to sign on to another contract, meaning she will have to face lots of auditions in coming months.

"I would love to be in New Zealand but it's hard to have an international career based here.''

She said her career highlights had been while working for NZ Opera, who had brought her back every two years or so for a role.

Darragh said she would love it if more New Zealanders went to the opera and the challenge was how to encourage them.

"I was thinking last night as i was waiting on stage for Act Two to start and you see this sea of people sitting there waiting and you can sense they all want to be transported somewhere, that's why they've come, and actually we love it as human beings.

"That's why we love the movies, we love going out of our world for a while and experiencing emotions and it's the same at the opera, feeling the music going through your whole body. More people would love it if they gave it a chance.''

NZ Opera's Madama Butterfly, accompanied by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, has four more performances at the Isaac Theatre 25 July 28 July, 30 July and 1 August.

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