POSTED: Thursday, March 05, 2009

Anne Namba designs have been mainstays on local runways since her label debuted 23 years ago. This summer, she's headed for a grander stage, having been selected to create the costumes for “;Madame Butterfly”; at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland.

She'll be heading there with Hawaii Opera Theatre general and artistic director Henry Akina, who is stage director of the production, and local-born architect Dean Shibuya, who is creating the sets for Puccini's tragic opera, set in the late 1800s, about a Japanese bride's doomed relationship with an American naval officer.

“;It's really huge,”; Namba said, during a break in her Kanani Street studio, where 70 out of the 120 costumes fill two racks. “;The entire month of July, this little town becomes an opera center, where 17,000 people come to watch opera.”;

She'll ship 65 completed garments in April, but before they leave, HOT will host a “;Madame Butterfly”; champagne brunch on Sunday at the Halekulani. Shibuya will show a video preview of his set designs, featuring a dramatic wedding altar and other innovative installations, and Akina will introduce Puccini's “;Un Bel Di,”; “;Addio, Fiorito asil”; and the Flower Duet arias, sung by HOT performers.

Akina spearheaded the effort after festival organizers contacted his agent regarding his work. Such is his stature in the opera world, that he was able to recommend Shibuya and Namba.

Namba said it was a leap of faith for backers of the event to let her work in Hawaii, far from the oversight of production director Jukka Pohjolainen, although he will be in town for Sunday's event. She's traveled to Finland twice, and corresponds with all her collaborators through e-mail.

“;Normally, they have the designer stay in Finland the entire month of June, using their workshop, but I don't work that way. I don't work out of swatch books. I create as I go, so I needed to have all my resources available.”;

Female members of the chorus will wear different styles made with an identical peach-and-cream silk fabric with a butterfly print designed by Namba, her nephew Kamea Hadar and artist Gary Hostallero.

Each man on stage will be dressed differently, and to help with fit, Namba worked with photos of each cast member, as well as complete measurements, which meant translating from centimeters, and dealing “;with Finnish names I can't pronounce, with double consonants and double vowels, and trying to fit them onto labels.”;

Namba worked on “;Madame Butterfly”; costumes for an HOT production in 2000, but she said, “;This is a much bigger production, with a bigger budget.”;

In addition, she has a much bigger role in how the story is presented, working closely with Akina and Shibuya to build symbolism into the wardrobe.

“;I researched other 'Madame Butterfly' productions, and there were two main ways the costumes are presented. One is very traditional, using real kimono. The other is very artistic, where it's so far out you lose the fact it's about Japan and its culture.

“;I wanted to make it obvious that it's Japanese-influenced, but executed in more modern interpretations of traditional wear.”;

She chose a butterfly print to flood the stage with the color-splashed winged creatures, fluttering against the stone wall of the castle where the opera is held.

“;My goal was to create costumes that were beautiful yet had a bit of surprise to them,”; she said. Cio-Cio-San's spectacular layered wedding kimono is trimmed in sheer organza representing wings, suggesting a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, and the set has been built to accentuate the drama of the wedding scene and final act.

“;That's what's been so exciting, to have the whole concept come together by sharing and adding onto ideas. This one is extremely different. It's Asian but with an Asian-American take.”;