Chatter Opera returns to Chattanooga with Madame Butterfly

Chatter Opera returns to Chattanooga with Madame Butterfly

March 1st, 2017 by Emily Crisman in Chatter

Stella Zambalis as Cio-Cio San in the 2005 CSO production of Madame Butterfly.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera is bringing opera back to the stage in the Scenic City this month with Madame Butterfly, CSO's first fully staged opera in a decade.

"The high cost of production was not sustainable," CSO Executive Director Samantha Teter says, referring to the operas previously staged by the CSO, many of which lost around $100,000 each, she says.

The funds brought in by ticket sales and donations couldn't offset the myriad expenses of putting on a "grand opera" complete with full cast and orchestra, lavish stage design and costumes. Costs include the hiring of a stage manager, performers, director, set and prop designers, costumer and musical accompanists; paying for travel and several weeks of lodging expenses for people brought in from out of town to participate in the production; and renting costumes and the Tivoli space for rehearsals and performances — which all adds up to a significant amount of money.

The budget for this production is $240,000, says Teter.

The decision to produce a grand opera this year came after the CSO was approached by a supporter interested in donating money to produce an opera, as well as potentially bequeathing money to the CSO to fund more in the future.

"She wanted us to perform a grand opera in her lifetime, and to see if the community will support grand opera moving forward," Teter says.

If the opera is a success and the donor decides to leave her money to the CSO, it would fund the staging of a grand opera in Chattanooga every two to three years, Teter adds.

The CSO last produced Madame Butterfly in 2005 under the same stage director, Helena Binder. The work was chosen to help revive opera in the Scenic City because Madame Butterfly is one of the most popular operas, and it has a relatively small cast and therefore lower production costs, Teter explains.

"Ticket sales are doing very well," she says, adding that the CSO has also gained new corporate sponsors and has collected about $10,000 in individual donations to support opera's return to Chattanooga. "Grand opera is such a different experience than many people have ever seen before. The combination of beautiful music as well as acting and singing onstage — you have to see it to believe it."

Madame Butterfly will be performed at the Tivoli March 23 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. both nights. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit