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Kaneko's 'fantasy opera': Tistou, les pouces verts

New National Theatre
07/04/2000 -  and 5, 6, 7 July 2000
Kosuke Kaneko: Tistou, les pouces verts (Midori no tenshi) Premiere
Masayo Kageyama / Megumi Saito (Tistou), Masanobu Shibayama / Toshihiro Tachibana (Papa), Nobuko Yamamoto /Mariko Ochi (Maman), Ikuo Matsuyama / Hakuyo Inoue (Moustache), Hiroaki Murakami / Shoji Sato (Gymnastique), Makoto Fujisawa / Yasushi Nakamura (Traunadisse), Yasuhiro Miura / Sumio Morita (Mauxdivers/Instituteur), Yumiko Kubo / Hirone Zaitsu (Jeune fille) Shimon Suzuki (Carlos) [First cast July 4/6, second cast July 5/7]
Fujiwara Opera Chorus Group, Tistou Ensemble, Keiji Sudo (conductor), Yoshikazu Yokoyama (director/librettist), Koji Muto (designer)

The Fujiwara opera ended the 1999-2000 season rather surprisingly with an opera about flower power. Kosuke Kaneko's 'fantasy opera' was originally meant to be a Nihon Opera Kyokai production, but it was delayed and ended up with the Fujiwara who gave it an excellent, if low budget and low profile production.

Direction was by Yoshikazu Yokoyama who also wrote the libretto based on a story by Maurice Druon, eclectic French writer of historical and children's fiction, latterly Secrétaire perpétuel of the Académie Française.

Tistou, les pouces verts is the story of a boy who discovers he has 'green fingers'. In a series of encounters with the problematic side of life - oppression (prison), poverty and degradation (downtown), sickness (hospital), war and peace, and finally death (of the old gardener), Tistou (Chito in Japanese) on each occasion performs a (green) miracle for those who suffer. They are redeemed by flowers.

Yokoyama's production made the most of the story. The cast were excellent, moving well on the stage, singing clearly and stylishly. The 10 members of the singing-dancing-acting of the chorus group were consistently entertaining. Only Masayo Kageyama as the hero used a breathy, musical, non-operatic singing technique, but this was effective for emphasizing the childishness of the hero she portrayed.

The story is rather precious, similar to Sainte-Exupery's Little Prince or J M Barrie's Peter Pan. Tistou is eventually identified as a 'green angel', climbs to heaven on a giant beanstalk and then reappears for the finale in a silver suit complete with little wings. The book is supposedly for children of ten and above. Kaneko's 'fantasy opera' may also be more suitable for children than adults.

The musical references all seemed to be American. While it was all very light and easy to understand, it was not entirely clear what the composer intended. Was it an imitation, a pastiche of 30s and 40s musicals? Or a parody? Were we expected to recognize the tunes? Or perhaps not recognize them. . . .?

The cast ended by distributing plant seed round the audience, and then stood in a line at the entrance handing out potted plants. . . . Which reminds me, I must plant those tarragon seeds.

Simon Holledge



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