Madame Butterfly – Oz Opera Costumes

Madame Butterfly – Oz Opera Costumes

In 2008 I had the opportunity to work as the Men’s Cutter for Oz Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly. The job was for 6 weeks (IIRC) in a makeshift workroom within the opera building in Surrey Hills. We had the undertaking of creating the costumes using some stock, original Japanese fabrics and clothing as well as modern fabrics. The sets and costumes were designed by the late Jennie Tate (to whom this production is dedicated) and realised by Julie Lynch.

Oz Opera is an offshoot of Opera Australia and as their website states:

“Opera Australia’s Oz Opera is the touring arm of the company. Oz Opera performs in communities both large and small across Australia, and gives many people of all ages their first experience of opera.

Oz Opera aims to inspire and engage with adult and student audiences in Australia, beyond the main stage programs in Melbourne and Sydney [with a] national tour of a fully staged opera that performs in metropolitan, regional and remote communities across Australia. Oz Opera’s Schools Company also gives around 400 schools performances each year in NSW and Victoria, enabling nearly 80,000 primary-aged students to experience the magic of opera in their very own classrooms, many for the first time.”

The production, because of the nature of a touring production, required that each cast member play dual roles and swap every performance. The artists would play a lead role in the morning and a supporting role in the afternoon or vice versa. This meant we needed doubles of everything, besides the size difference no-one would want to get into someone else’s sweaty costume, ripe from the morning performance, yech!

What made this particular job so exciting is I had the opportunity to cut almost every style of costume in one production, as well as learning a great deal about traditional Japanese garb. We had to get the fittings done on time, no exceptions, as I had to fly to Melbourne, so no time to waste. The team we had was a happy and enthusiastic one, I had Angela as my main sewer, she has many years experience and together with her, the added challenge of 2 junior level sewers that required a lot of guidance. Overall we did well to get these costumes done in the time we had and the skills available to us.

Lyn Heal, the head of Wardrobe has been kind enough to find and send me some photos of the production to use to present some of my body of work for prospective employers.


OzOpera MButterfly ButlerThis is the Butler, played by Rohan Thatcher. Most of his costume is original clothing. We had to make some parts of his costume, such as the under kimono. What you see is actually a pre set and removable neck piece inserted to appear like another kimono layer. It was press studded in and could be removed for cleaning. Who wants to wear another layer under those stage lights! As part of the illusion of stage costume some things get “set” for the actor/artist. The tie on his hakama pants is one of those, the knot itself is quite involved and deemed “too hard” for them to do every day so we re-cut and alter the pants to do up to the same place every day rather than wrap and tie around. This helps with continuity throughout the production so the audience at the end of the tour get the same quality as those that saw it at the beginning. 



Next is Pinkerton (David Corcoran), a U.S. Naval Officer who is infatuated with Butterfly.OzOpera MButterfly Pinkerton

The fabric was a piece from stock that had been sent to a professional dying company to get the right shade. The resulting fabric, although pressed and rolledonto a cardboard tube had been permanently creased. From what I understand, this can happen when the cloth is crowded in the dye vat and the creases get cooked in. When it came to making it up, any steam that (accidentally or otherwise) came close to the suit brought the creases back out. It took quite an effort to keep this, and the double, in perfect condition. The cloth also lost most of its workability and was quite a challenge for Angela but she did a great job. We also had to make a duplicate shirt as this was the only one we had in stock.



Madame ButterflyOzOpera MButterfly Goro

It is hard to decide which is my favourite; they all have different elements but I think Goro is definitely one. He was played here by Brendon Wickham and has such a striking costume

Goro is the Japanese marriage broker and is a mix of traditional Japanese with western clothing. He wears hakama that we made by copying an original pair and a western style shirt from stock. On that he had a striped waistcoat that had one too many colours and was overlaid with ribbon to block the colour before making up. A bow tie we made and a mourning coat with satin lapel insert and cut to allow for the hakama underneath. Again, the hakama had to appear original without exposing the truth and magically having pockets.

 Lastly is The Bonze (Eddie Muliamaseali’i) who is a Buddhist Priest. The lovely Eddie is a large man and presented quite a challenge to give the appearance of a traditional Japanese man in a Maori sized body. I think that we achieved that as the photo gives little away as to his height or his sizeI used, among others, a fascinating website that goes through the details of so many Japanese clothes. It was a brilliant resource for me. The sashinuki style pants are cut like extra long hakama and are tied and bound just under the knee. Again, I had to cut in order to appear the same in every performance and had to create an easy to put on pair. They are proportionally drafted to the original pair, they are around 3 times larger and have an inner support of mesh in the hems to keep them light and appear the same drape as ones made for a thinner, shorter person. His fabrics were non-traditional and behaved differently to silks and cottons, the creases in the pants kept dropping out and we had to secure them in place. 


I enjoyed every part of working on this production, it exposed me to a costume that I have not and may not ever, get the chance to cut again. It also gave me an opportunity to cut some interesting and challenging costumes. The team were wonderful and worked well together. 

Here are some beautiful references that I had for the Bonze.