March 16, 2016


A fire breathing dragon and giant pagoda set the scene for Turandot, the 2016 production for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, which is the biggest and most ambitious to date.

Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot is one of the greatest operas ever written, with brilliant melodies, a gripping story for those who need action and drama, plus an exotic setting and plenty of movement and visual splendour.

Performed on the over water stage, with views of the Sydney skyline, Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background, this is sure to be one of the most spectacular productions of Turandot ever staged, complete with a giant 9m high and 60m long dragon incorporating the Great Wall of China and an 18m high pagoda.

Listening to the sounds of the world’s most famous aria, Nessun Dorma, ringing out across Sydney Harbour will be a memory the audience will have forever.


Beautiful and powerful Turandot, Princess of Peking, is irresistable and brutal. She challenges her many suitors to answer three riddles on pain of death, executing any who cannot answer her riddles. No one has ever succeeded. Calaf, a brave Prince from a foreign land, falls instantly in love with Turandot and despite the wishes of his exiled father and the pleas of a slave girl who loves him, rings the gong and declares his love for the Princess. Turandot presents her riddles and the unknown Calaf answers and offers the ice-cold princess a riddle of his own, but Calaf’s riddle risks more than his own life, everyone else’s hang in the balance.

Chinese-American director Chen Shi-Zheng brings his unique perspective to Turandot’s desire to remain unmarried, putting the entire empire in jeopardy and it’s against this desperate backdrop that the story plays out. Dan Potra is both the set and costume designer.

Performers access the stage via a floating walkway and The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra is housed directly beneath the stage, in an area known as “The Underworld”. There is a total performing company of 136, comprising 78 cast members and 58 from the Orchestra. Two Surf Life Savers keep watch on the over water activities of performers and crew.


The temporary outdoor “opera house” includes a 3,000 seat grandstand, five food and beverage venues, sparkling wine outlets, merchandise outlets, plus box office, bathroom facilities, kitchens, dressing rooms and offices.

Turandot was Puccini’s last opera and was not quite finished on his death in 1924. One of his students wrote an ending that is performed today.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour Turandot runs from 24 March to 24 April 2016.

Sandra Tiltman   Photos: John Pond



August 31, 2013

DSC00038Puccini’s ever popular opera, Madama Butterfly, has been selected as the 2014 Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, with Minister for Tourism, Major Events and the Arts, George Souris, making the official announcement at Sydney Opera House recently.

One of the world’s most unique and spectacular outdoor events will return to its previous location in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.  The stage will be set in the harbour with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as the backdrop.

Opening on 21 March 2014, this production of Madama Butterfly will be a modern retelling of Puccini’s tale of love and honour. With a dynamic moving set, including an enormous full moon, it will play nightly for an exclusive three week season.

A world class creative team and cast has been assembled for Madama Butterfly, including internationally renowned director Alex Ollé, one of the six artistic directors of La Fura dels Baus, one of the most innovative and prestigious theatre companies in the world.

Japanese soprano Hiromi Omura is cast in the lead role as Cio-Cio-San and returns after great success in the title role at Sydney Opera House in 2012. Alternating in the role will be Korean soprano Hyeseoung Kwon. International tenors Georgy Vasiliev and Andeka Gorrotxategi will make their Australian debuts as they alternate as Pinkerton, the American naval officer who romances Madama Butterfly

DSC00040Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini said “La Fura Dels Baus is a creative powerhouse and we are thrilled with the spectacular new production their team is bringing for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s Madama Butterfly.

We have some superb international singers joining us here in Sydney for what has become the cultural event of the year and we are very appreciative of the support of the NSW Government and Destination NSW in helping us deliver this in 2014. We also thank Dr Haruhisa Handa’s organisation, the International Federation for Arts and Culture, for its generous investment in our vision for an opera event like no other.”

After the success of the two previous Handa Operas, La Traviata (2012) and  Carmen (2013), it is exciting to see that the third opera chosen is a crowd favourite. Madama Butterfly on Sydney Harbour will hopefully bring a new audience of first time opera goers to enjoy this spectacle, to be performed in such a unique and beautiful setting.

WORDS & PICTURES:    Sandra Tiltman