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Japan's first Die schweigsame Frau

Orchard Hall, Bunkamura
02/16/1999 -  
Richard Strauss : Die schweigsame Frau
Hartmut Welker (Sir Morosus), Emiko Suga (Aminta), Hiroyuki Yoshida (Henry Morosus), Katsunori Kono (Barber), Asako Yoda (Housekeeper), Yumiko Kan (Carlotta), Hiroko Etsuda (Isotta), Homei Kamie (Morbio), Akira Hasegawa (Farfallo), Makoto Narita (Vanuzzi)
The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Tokyo Opera Singers, Kazuzhi Ono (conductor), Ryozo Makino ('scenery' designer)

Tokyo is a great place if you wish to compare different productions - from all around the world - of standard repertoire operas. Carmen, for example: the New York Met Zeffirelli production came here in June 1997 followed a few months later by the same opera conducted by Kent Nagano and then a Fujiwara Opera production slightly afterwards by Grischa Asagaroff of the Zurich Opera (with Agnes Baltsa). Last year there were another couple of productions. This June we will have versions by the Romanian National Opera (again with Agnes Baltsa) and the Brno National Theatre (from the Czech Republic). Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Die Fledermaus, Don Giovanni and the Marriage of Figaro have also had multiple productions - the last three being brought regularly to Tokyo by east European companies.

Nevertheless there are musicians actually trying to widen the repertoire - notable heroes being the Tokyo Philharmonic lead by Kazushi Ono. The Tokyo Philharmonic claims the longest tradition of any orchestra in Japan, dating back to 1911, and is now Japan's most experience opera band, playing regularly for such local groups as the Fujiwara and Nikikai Operas. Since Kazushi Ono became permanent conductor in 1992, he has produced and conducted 14 (in a total series of 17) semi-staged concert operas with the orchestra, namely West Side Story, Salieri's Prima la musica, poi le parole/ Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragodie, Norma, The Fiery Angel, Adriana Lecouvreur, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Turandot, Paul Hindemith's Morder, Hoffnung der Frauen/Sancta Susanna/Das Nusch-Nuschi, Nabucco, Peter Grimes, Don Carlo, Janacek's Jenufa and Un ballo in maschera.

'Opera Concertante Series Number 17' was performed at Orchard Hall, Bunkamura, Tokyo on 16 February. This was Japan's first performance of Richard Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau. Ono assembled a well-rehearsed, enthusiastic group of soloists who conveyed much of the humour and joy of this delightful work within the confines of a semi-staged production. There was a generalized nautical backdrop representing the house of Sir Morosus, some lighting effects and costuming, and some physical interaction between the characters.

Hartmut Welker sang Morosus - the old music-hating English sea-dog with punctured ear-drums - with humour and a dignity rising to Wagnerian grandeur in his great cry of "Ruhe! Ruhe in meinem haus!" (Quiet! Quiet in my house!) following the invasion by his nephew's adopted Italian opera troupe.

Emiko Suga (Aminta) displayed a sweet and pleasing if somewhat tremulous voice, with a formidable resonance that becomes the more appealing the longer you listen to her. Perhaps not an ideal instrument for such a high-lying coloratura role, but if she was sometimes squally that was perfectly in character with the part of Morosus's tormentor. She has excellent diction. Yoshida (Henry Morosus) and Kono (Barber) have pleasant, if rather light, voices, but in their case it was sometimes difficult to hear the words.

The orchestra played with precision and panache under Ono's direction. The strings sound a little thin but this is an impressive band that plays at its best under Ono. The theatre was sold-out and audience reaction was very positive. No doubt many of those who attended hope one day to be able to see a staged performance.

Future concert productions by Kazushi Ono and the Tokyo Philharmonic will be of Salome and Franz Schreker's Der Ferne Klang (1912).

Simon Holledge



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