Renowned Japanese Artists & Virtuosic Canadian Musicians Join Forces in Re-Imagined Tale of Two Lovers’ Anguish and Enlightenment
TomoeArts presents the world premiere of a provocative and heartrending new work, Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited, a noh chamber opera, October 26 – 28, 2017 at The Cultch. Master Japanese practitioners of noh – Japan’s 14th century theatre art – combine talents with Western classical musicians in an operatic re-imagining of the classic tale of unrequited love: Kayoi Komachi. This mesmerizing ‘East meets West’ invention exposes the desire, tribulation, and mystery between a man and woman caught in the throes of a tumultuous romance.
“At the edge of the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Vancouver has long enjoyed cross-cultural collaborations with Japan, from which have transpired remarkable artistic ventures,” says Colleen Lanki, Director of TomoeArts. “Noh is one of Japan’s greatest traditional performing arts and is constantly evolving with each generation. In Kayoi Komachi/Komachi, we are pushing the boundaries of noh, while taking Western opera far beyond its familiar context as we interweave the two genres.”
In Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited, audiences will find the noh text more fragmented, and free-flowing, the harmonies and choreography carefully altered, and the rhythm reworked from the conventional eight-beat phrase structure. The classical ensemble will play noh melodies and percussive patterns, and vocalists will sing pitches and perform gestures, unlike any repertoire they have encountered. Added to the dynamic interplay between English and Japanese dialogue, this piece brings noh and opera to a brand-new territory.
The concept of a chamber opera blending noh and Western classical music is the brainchild of award-winning, Iranian-Canadian composer Farshid Samandari. Through the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra, Samandari was introduced to Yamai Tsunao, a renowned noh actor of the Komparu school. Impressed by Yamai’s virtuosity, Samandari was driven to write an opera pairing him with an equally brilliant soprano, however, a libretto for noh actor and soprano had never before been written. In 2015, Colleen Lanki, who has studied noh for more than 20 years, was approached to create this new libretto, choosing to utilize actual noh text to make the work more accessible to its noh performers. Following a successful workshop in 2016, Samandari and Lanki continued to refine Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited, which will enjoy its first-ever public performance in October 2017.
Japanese noh is one of the oldest theatre arts performed today. With highly stylized movement and vivid text sung through stirring chant, noh plays are traditionally based on legends and literature and focus on themes around the supernatural. The plots typically revolve around two main characters who perform on a minimalist stage backed by chorus and musicians on drum and flute. Noh’s origin can be traced to the Muromachi Period (1333-1573), a time of artistic innovation in Japan. The art form’s enduring place in modern Japanese society is credited to teachings passed down through its five official troupes, and international interest sparked during the 19th century. Among noh’s famed integrations into the Western canon is Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River (1964), based on the play Sumidagawa. However, few if any Western classical productions have bridged noh and opera in the innovative fusion of Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited.
The story of Kayoi Komachi is taken from one of five noh plays about the life of Ono-no-Komachi (c. 825-900 CE), one of the six great waka poets of Japan. In it, Ono-no-Komachi is a ghost haunted by the vengeful spirit of Fukakusa-no-Shōshō, a man she is said to have rejected in life. Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited features text from the original Kayoi Komachi, the noh play Sotoba Komachi, and Komachi’s own exquisite poetry. The adaption departs from the otherworldly to a contemporary, real-life setting, and examines the complex intimacy between a man and woman in a passionate, but a destructive relationship.
As leads in Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited, Vancouver’s own acclaimed soprano Heather Pawsey will perform the role of Komachi, and Japan’s Yamai Tsunao will play Fukakusa. Amplifying their characters’ contrast and chemistry, Pawsey and Yamai will pull from their distinctive disciplines and culture, while singing in their own language until the moment their characters confront one another. At that time, each will gradually switch from Japanese to English, and vice versa, conveying a deeper understanding reached between the lovers.
Performing a gorgeous score by Farshid Samandari, the ensemble of Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited, led by Conductor Jonathan Girard, will include: Melanie Adams (mezzo-soprano); Joseph Bulman (tenor); Peter Monaghan (bass-baritone); noh actors Muraoka Kiyomi and Kashiwazaki Mayuko; Mark McGregor (flute); Western percussionist Brian Nesselroad; guest kotsuzumi (noh shoulder drum) player Omura Kayû; as well as a group of prodigious string players.
About TomoeArts (tomoearts.org):
TomoeArts is a dance theatre company that works between traditions and disciplines. The organization promotes, teaches and performs Japanese classical dance while creating and presenting interdisciplinary performances that incorporate traditional Japanese forms and aesthetics. TomoeArts has created works of gorgeous total theatre, traditional concerts of kabuki dance, and site-specific music & dance pieces, bringing together artists and art forms.
Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited
October 26 – 28, 2017
The Cultch Historic Theatre
Vancouver, BC V5L 2H6