Written by Kim Parnell
Italian composer – Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is coming to the Brolga Theatre this month, so I thought it only fitting that I call China-born Australian Soprano Sharon Zhai who alternates the role of Butterfly with Eva Kong. Sharon talks about her role as Cio-Cio-San in this much loved but haunting operatic masterpiece. This article is written in Sharon’s own words as only she can tell her story.
My mum was a Chinese opera singer but she didn’t have the classical western operatic singing technique so was doing different things. Opera wasn’t really something that I imagined that I could do in the future. When I was in primary school my teacher discovered that I had a good voice with rhythm and suggested to my mum that I needed a voice teacher. I was thirteen years old when I started classical and operatic singing. Mum was very supportive during my development and bought some audio training programs that I would listen to after school, my childhood was full of music.
Later on, I lived in Italy for eight years with my Italian husband. We did the family thing for a while, but singing was always in my blood. It is lovely to work in Europe, but Australia is really something, I love coming back to Australia as I love the sunshine here. My work with Opera Australia is amazing, I get to work with some fantastic Artists and Directors. I really thank them for giving me this opportunity to perform in Madama Butterfly.
My character Cio-Cio-San is a very innocent Japanese Geisha. At fifteen years of age, she marries Pinkerton, an American Naval Officer. She is very naive and believes in love and thinks that her marriage is the real thing, but Pinkerton has other ideas and was just looking for fun while in Japan.
Cio-Cio-San bears a son and it is three years until she sees her husband again, at this time he comes back with his new American wife to take the child. To Cio-Cio-Sun losing her child was is unacceptable, it is shameful for her and Japanese culture in general, so she takes her own life.
Cio-Cio-San is a hard role to play as it is full of emotion. In the beginning, I could never control myself without crying even when I listened to the music. When you are singing these songs it is hard for the Opera Singer as you have to control yourself, but at the same time, you need to deliver your emotions and make your performance as authentic as possible. The last scene would make me cry as I have a son and I can feel the pain each time. In fact, for a long time I didn’t allow him to watch the opera, last year this changed as my family came to see the performance, my son was eight. I think it is important to tell them beforehand and explain to them that this is just a story, not something that happens in real life every day. So I talked to my son and when he watched it he was fine with it, he could accept that this was his mum playing a different character.
I have never been to the Fraser Coast before so I am excited to see this part of Queensland. We are staying in Queensland for nearly ten days at this time, I am sure we will have time to have a look around.
I would like you all to know that Madama Butterfly is the most beautiful Italian Opera on earth. Piccini’s music is beautiful and the story will impact you. I am not saying that everyone will cry, but you will feel, it will be a very special experience. We also have a wonderful children’s chorus which makes the experience a lot more interactive for the local communities that we travel to.
Tuesday, July 23
Brolga Theatre & Convention Centre