Thursday, March 27, 2014

A feast for the senses: Madama Butterfly at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Mid-show fireworks in Madama Butterfly for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Fleet Steps,
Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 21 March - 12 April 2014
(Photo by James Morgan)
With the sparkling Sydney harbour as a backdrop, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour returns for the third year running; again teaming up with Fresh Catering to offer a uniquely Sydney arts and food experience that's a true feast for all the senses.

Entrance to the Opera Precinct at Fleet Steps
This year, from 21 March to 12 April 2014 it's Giacomo Puccini's classic Madama Butterfly in a rather contemporary light.

The Japanese setting of the opera sets an elegant theme that runs throughout the numerous food and beverage outlets and the custom-built outdoor site at the opera precinct assembled at Fleet Steps in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Hiromi Omura as Madama Butterfly
(Photo by James Morgan)

Bamboo trees on the stage
As per previous years, the floating stage that juts out into the harbour is an unmissable sight; this year's the biggest yet at 1,276 square metres.

For Madama Butterfly it features a lush green astroturfed hill topped with a forest of bamboo trees, that in the second half changes into a bare basics home for the main character, Madama Butterfly or Cio Cio-san.

Side view of the floating stage
Perhaps even more spectacularly, the stage houses a full orchestra beneath the set, while a chorus is located below the slanted audience seating.

The feature pieces of the opera stage this year are two illuminated spheres, representing a full moon hanging over the stage and the warm sun rising from the water on stage right.

The wedding scene with Georgy Vasiliev as Pinkerton and Hiromi Omura
as Madama Butterfly

(Photo by James Morgan)
The sights and sounds of Madama Butterfly – and the unmistakeable, tangible wrenching of the heart in the very emotional last act – cover the bulk of the senses.

Meanwhile Fresh Catering has the smells and tastes covered with numerous Japanese-inspired dining options for any budget; ranging from snacks and drinks to a pre-show three-course dinner with matching Tyrell's Wines.

Adina Garden Bar
Closest to the opera precinct entrance is the Adina Garden Bar where noodles and a fried chicken bun are the go. The Japanese theming comes through strongly in torii gates, bamboo fencing and even a bamboo bridge in this pretty outdoor area.

Seating at the Adina Garden Bar

View from the Southern Terrace
The elevated Southern Terrace features a bar and plenty of seating and high tables in an expansive space where the views are nothing short of postcard-perfect.

Ready-to-go food options at the Southern Terrace
Alongside a range of ready-to-go cold salads and desserts, Japanese-inspired burgers – like chicken katsu and soy bean with avocado – and pizzas – like teriyaki chicken and miso prawn – tempt both young and older crowds.

Three-story structure housing (from bottom) Northern Cantina,
Platinum Club and Northern Terrace
The even more elevated Northern Terrace above the Platinum Club offers the same quick service, fast fare and outdoor, "rooftop" seating.

Northern Cantina space

Northern Cantina food stalls
With seats right on the water's edge with unobstructed views of our gorgeous harbour, the Northern Cantina offers a little more in terms of food.

There are Japanese share plates, including edamame, chicken yakitori and popcorn shrimp, and more substantial mains, like Japanese curry and BBQ miso salmon, plus the cold same salads and desserts of the Terraces.

Northern Cantina
There are also two Sparkling and Oyster Bars that pop up and down in front of the main stage, with citrus ponzu oysters, ice creams and other snacks on offer.

The bar in the Platinum Club
And then there's the whole shebang, all-in experience of the Platinum Club where you can get a pre-show three-course Japanese-influenced dinner with matching Tyrell's Wines in the stunningly appointed, on-theme second level space.

We managed a quick chat with Fresh Catering managing director Peter McCloskey and his executive chef Marco Adler about the Platinum Club menu which draws traditional Japanese flavours into modern Australian dishes.

Stage view from the Platinum Club
McCloskey shared that while designing menus for Opera on Sydney Harbour each year is the fun part, the biggest challenge is the logistics of getting the food and beverage options up and running. From preparation to sales points, serving 2,500-4,000 people nightly and outdoors with a variety of options is no small feat.

Even the on-site kitchen's location and size in the main, three-storey structure can change from year to year, as the custom build needs to account for trees that grow on the site from year to year.

The view (with deflated "sun")
We also heard from winemaker Chris Tyrrell; a fifth generation member of the Tyrell's Wines family, who was completely on board with the idea that the wine and everything in the Platinum Club were just one small part of the spectacular Opera on Sydney Harbour experience.

The Tyrell's Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut was the perfect starting (and interval) beverage on our muggy evening that threatened with rain but luckily there was no need for ponchos this year.

Tea braised chicken and soybean salad, saffron emulsion
Our three-course dinner started with a delightful entrée of tea-braised chicken slices beneath a sprightly salad of edamame soybeans, pickled radish, asparagus, cucumber, enoki mushrooms and sesame seeds.

Alongside oversized seaweed rice crackers, this was gorgeously fresh and light way to start the meal with a touch of creaminess from the mayonnaise-like saffron emulsion.

A glass of Tyrell's Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon – the Hunter Valley's iconic white wine - was the well-balanced match.

Roasted blue eye cod, watercress and silken tofu
It was a tough choice between the three mains options. My second choice would have been the fillet of roasted blue eye cod, served with a slice of silken tofu, radish thins, woodear mushrooms (also known as black fungus), watercress and what looked like a bit of mashed potato.

Ma Po eggplant on bean salad with spinach and sesame dressing
I went with the vegetarian option of (Sichuan rather than Japanese) ma po styled eggplant, served with a green and snake bean salad as well as silken tofu.

The soft, golden cubes of eggplant were beautifully spiced and probably didn't need the accompanying wasabi mayonnaise. Also served with watercress and textural woodear mushrooms, the salad components shone with the spinach and sesame dressing.

Miso marinated beef fillet on bok choy and enoki mushrooms
There was definitely dish envy when I spotted the beef fillet; a nicely coloured, thick piece of meat served with a jus, edamame, baby bok choy, zucchini flowers, woodear mushrooms and the wasabi mayo.

A glass of the Tyrell's Lunatiq Heathcote Shiraz would have been a beautiful match.

Decadent chocolate and ginger mousse with praline feuilletine
We squeezed in dessert just ahead of the show's start, with a sweet and a savoury option to please all. The chocolate and ginger mousse looked amazing with a chocolate sheet, fresh raspberries, ice cream, a caramelly sauce and praline crumbs.

Selection of cheese, seaweed lavosh and crackers
I had to scoff my cheese plate – a cheddar, white mould and blue – as we seemed to be running a bit late. Served with a quince-y jam, raspberries and both water and seaweed crackers, I'll admit a blue cheese cracker sandwich did make it with me to the start of the opera.

Stage set change for the second half
The three-course meal is a lovely lead into the opera, where Madama Butterfly's soaring soprano notes took my breath away and everyone was mesmerised by the well-incorporated wedding scene fireworks.

For those not familiar with the story of the opera, be sure to see the electronic signage for subtitles translating the Italian operas, or risk missing key character traits like Cio Cio-san's young naiveté or Pinkerton's selfish callousness.

Northern Terrace at the interval
The interval is a good opportunity for more food and drink, and in the Platinum Club we were treated to more goodies in the way of canapés and Tyrell's Wines – a separate package that can be purchased with tickets.

Sushi, panko crumbed arancini and macarons went around with select Tyrell's Wines available at the bar.

The stage in the second half
Madama Butterfly's dramatic, tear-jerker end to the opera was settled nicely with the walk out of the Royal Botanic Gardens, although there's also a shuttle bus that takes people out to the Domain.

The "sun" rising from the water
(Photo by James Morgan)
Opera on Sydney Harbour really is a feast for all the senses. It's a magnificent, heartfelt demonstration that the Sydney arts scene, and specifically the opera, can be for anyone.

With opera tickets starting from $79 and the impressive variety of food options by Fresh Catering, it's an amazing Sydney experience that I can recommend for all your senses.

See here for more details and tickets for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. See more photos on my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes 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.


Vivian - vxdollface said...

this is so amazing! what a lovely setup - if it rains, do they have marquees?

Amanda | Elsewhere Traveler said...

That looks like it was an amazing time! Do you know offhand how long the opera runs?

Tina said...

Hi Viv - No, it's a purely outdoor event (last year we had ponchos and a required stop in the performance...). I think they do 'rain-out' days to reschedule anything that has to be cancelled.

Hi Amanda - 21 March to 12 April 2014


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