NZ Opera

New Zealand Opera blog

Madame Butterfly gets dressed up


Two outrageously lucky members of the Madame Butterfly creative team recently hit the streets of Tokyo, Japan on a whirlwind shopping adventure to source the perfect costumes for our upcoming production. NZ Opera’s wardrobe supervisor Sophie Ham and Madame Butterfly production designer Christina Smith spent eight days exploring Tokyo districts for authentic second hand kimonos and traditional fabrics and the fruits of their labour are spectacular!

We visited our Onehunga Technical Centre to chat with Sophie about the trip and what they discovered.

After some serious planning, Christina and Sophie already knew what they wanted before going overseas. Scouring New Zealand for traditional kimonos hadn’t resulted in the yields needed and items available online were very highly priced so the next option was to head to Tokyo armed with a shopping list and a map of stores. For this production, there are about 45 cast members to dress and almost everyone will be wearing traditional Japanese kimono ensembles.

The duo visited a range of kimono shops, street markets and fabric stores in suburbs all over Tokyo.

A Kimono store owner carefully folds our purchase.

The final range purchased was a collection of second hand, hand-stitched kimono ensembles made of silk or cotton – perfectly authentic with aged silk to fit the early twentieth century setting of the opera.

Sophie explained how kimonos are always made from the same width of fabric (the kimonos are hemmed to fit you, but the fabric width is never cut so that you can change the size at any stage). The costume team are now working to adjust the kimonos to fit our Madame Butterfly cast.

A formal kimono ensemble is very complicated, with several layers of clothing, wraps and cords required to bind everything together. Men’s kimonos are simpler to put on than women’s versions. Here are a couple of short videos that give you an idea of the technique and effort involved in formal kimono dress.

Wandering around Tokyo, Sophie and Christina happened upon a traditional Japanese wedding at a Togo shrine – fabulous inspiration for Madame Butterfly.

To get everyone on stage in good time, Sophie, Elizabeth Whiting (head of NZ Opera’s wardrobe department) and their team will be simplifying the dressing process as much as possible so the kimonos are easier to put on. Sophie says that once the cast are dressed in kimonos, there will be no sitting or lounging around in costume unless required to on stage as the fabrics easily crease.

We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise of seeing the stunning costumes on stage, so here are a few of the costume design drawings by Christina Smith for the production.