If you have never been to the opera now is the time. Even for the not so cultured of us, the words Madam Butterfly bring up notions of pure drama on stage.
Directed by Alex Broun, the Madama Butterfly is set to be a visually dazzling performance with hand painted costumes from Japan and an incredible set design. The famous Italian opera, by the legendary Italian composer Giacomo Puccini is coming to Dubai and Abu Dhabi to celebrate the 9th Edition of the Italian Festival Week in the UAE.
"For me I'm in love with the music first. Puccini and Italian music. I think everybody knows a little bit, maybe just a song," Monica De Rosa Mckay, who will play the lead role of Cio-Cio San, says of the opera.
Rehearsing throughout the summer in Italy, Monica has been preparing for the role and finding her own interpretation of the struggles and transformation of her character. The Japanese tragedy, set in the 1900's, revolves around the story of Cio-Cio San. As a young geisha her life is transformed through a journey of love and heartbreak as she grapples with the harsh cards life has dealt her.
Monica has travelled throughout the world living and performing in many countries including France, England, Mexico, Venezuela, the United States and Italy. To say that she is passionate about opera music is an understatement. As the only Italian Soprano resident in the UAE, she has taken up the post of ambassador for the Italian art form with gusto and precision. A resident of Dubai for the last eight years with her husband and children, she has made it her mission to bring opera to the UAE and educate new audiences.
"I thought I would like to propose something special here in Dubai so people can know our Italian culture."
The musical culture scene has been on a steady incline over the last decade in Dubai. In the past, audiences in the UAE may not have known or heard of many great Italian operas. Thanks to Monica though, they've had the opportunity to see renowned productions that she has brought into the country such as La traviata, Rigoletto, La bohème and this year Madama Butterfly.
Through passion and perseverance, Monica started by performing in concerts and recitals in Dubai and slowly cultivating the opera scene. People were receptive and Monica's audience grew until her last concert, The Italian Opera Gala at The Madinat Theatre for the Italian National Day, was completely sold out. One of the innovations that Monica helped to cultivate with education and opera is ensuring that an English-speaking actress narrates her interpretation of the action on stage.
Acting as a one-woman-show, producing and organising and starring in operas, doesn't take away from the reason why Monica does what she does. It's the music and performing on stage that drives her.
"I forget everything, I just listen to the music and enjoy. I just let go," she says about performing on stage.
How did you start your career in music?
My father was a musician and he gave me the push to study music. He always thought I had a natural voice from when I was young. Then, when I started to study, I discovered my passion for classical music. When I started to study classical music I just fell in love with it.
What do you love about performing?
I enjoy everything about singing. At the beginning it's very stressful of course before you go on stage, every time. It doesn't matter how many times you perform, every time is scary, very, very scary. But immediately when you start to perform and go in front of people, you don't see the people because everything is dark, which is good. So, when I start to open my mouth and sing, I forget everything and I just enjoy.
Do you have any rituals before a performance?
I need to concentrate in my dressing room. I need to be alone for a minute, a sort of meditation. I'm very spiritual, I'm a believer. I do a prayer before every time I do a performance. To me this is very important.
Why has Madama Butterfly captivated audiences for so many years?
I think it's the story first, because it's very touching. It's a wonderful story and it's very relevant even at this time. It's also a love story, a very deep love story. And the music is beautiful. Puccini is one of my favourite composers so nobody can resist the music, even if you don't know opera I'm sure if you come and listen to Madama Butterfly it will be amazing.
Tell us about your character Cio-Cio San.
Cio-Cio San is a very young girl. She is a very innocent, delicate young lady with very deep beliefs. She's a geisha, not from the beginning. Her family was very rich at the beginning, then they lose all their money and her father kills himself. So she only has her mother and is forced to become a geisha to sustain her family. It's not a choice.
How do you go into this character's head?
This is my job, you have to. It is not only signing but it is also the interpretation of the role. You have to completely forget yourself and go in very deeply. That's why you have to start (rehearsing) in advance. To study the role, to read about the culture, to know everything. And then it's something that happens. You become Cio-Cio San.
Why do you think music affects people from all walks of life? Even music they might not understand like opera.
Music can become universal. Because the values are universal, the love is for everybody. It is something that touches you inside. It don't matter if you are Italian, English, Japanese, Chinese, everybody feels this kind of emotion. Music, is a universal instrument to attract people from different countries. it's something that can unify people.
Who is an opera icon that you look up to and learn from?
For me, you never stop to learn and to study, because you are always improving. You don't reach perfection, this never happens, each time, each month, you learn something more, even if you are old there is always something to learn. An icon for me is Maria Callas, I always listen to her. I listen to her interpretation more than the voice, for me, nobody is like her. She's an icon.
Do you think going through different stages of life and becoming a mother changes you as a performer and an artist?
Absolutely it changes you. Because of course the experience of becoming a mother, it changes your perception completely and they way you see and feel things and also your voice. The voice changes and becomes more mature, it becomes a little bit darker, you can take on different emotions and your emotional range is different.
Madama Butterfly will be performing at Dubai Centrepoint Theater (DUCTAC), November 12 and Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace Auditorium, November 14. To book tickets for the show visit www.ductac.org for Dubai and www.timeouttickets.com for Abu Dhabi.
Read here about the Madame Butterfly Emirati debut back in 2010.
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