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Tokyo Opera Production Number 60

New National Theater Playhouse
04/16/1999 -  
Ambroise Thomas : Hamlet
Itaru Mitsuzaka (Hamlet), Kayoko Matsuo (Ophélie) Takashi Shinpo (Claudius), Emi Mizushima (Gertrude), Atsushi Sato (Laërte), Kojiro Tsuchiya (Horatio), Takumi Nishizuka (Marcellus), The Ghost (Hiroshi Matsuo), Naoya Saskura (Polonius) Jun Okado (first gravedigger) Naoki Okamoto (second gravedigger)
Tokyo Universal Philharmony Orchestra, Tokyo Opera Production Chorus Group, Hakaru Matsuoka (conductor)
Hiroshi Matsuo (director) Shigeaki Tsuchiya (scenery)

Tokyo Opera Production (known as Opera Produce in Japanese) was started by singer-director Hiroshi Matsuo in 1975. Since then the group have contributed to the popularization of opera in Japan by producing a total of 60 operas including major works of Mozart (Figaro, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute), Verdi (Rigoletto, Traviata, Simon Boccanegro), Puccini (Boheme, Tosca, Butterfly) and Richard Strauss (Salome, Capriccio, Ariadne), and adaptations of Shakespeare plays by Gounod (Romeo et Juliette), Berlioz (Beatrice et Benedict), Wagner (Das Liebesverbot), and Rossini (Otello). This in itself is an impressive achievement - a record that compares with those of the two main local Japanese opera companies, the Fujiwara and the Nikikai, each of which command far greater resources.

Hamlet was performed in the relative intimacy of the New National Theatre's Playhouse, a hall with excellent acoustics that seats about a thousand people. A chorus of about 30 members was used and an orchestra of a similar size.

Thomas's tuneful, if melodramatic, version of Shakespeare's Hamlet is still occasionally performed but is nowhere near as popular as it was in the heyday of the great baritones, Battistini and Ruffo. So it was a great pleasure to have the chance of hearing the whole work. Tokyo Opera Production performed it in French (with Japanese titles) and opted for the so-called 'Covent Garden' ending of 1869 (in which Hamlet kills both himself and the King) rather than the 1868 Paris original in which Hamlet survives and succeeds to the throne.

The production was dominated by the strong figure (in traditional black and white) and firm baritone of Itaru Mitsuzaka (Hamlet). He sang the French text with elegance and clarity, projecting his voice well and acting his way through the full gamut of Hamlet's emotions, while holding the complete attention of the audience. The Ophélie was also well cast. Kayoko Matsuo has an enchantingly youthful, silvery voice and a beautiful stage presence. Her singing was musical, rhythmical and accurate, capturing exactly the right degree of abandonment in her fourth act mad scene. Unfortunately her voice is also very small and would not be heard in a larger hall. She must learn to project her voice. The singing of the rest of the cast was not of the same calibre.

Design was conventional - everybody in 16th-century dress. The only non-European element was the use of attractive red-striped, black lacquered side panels. Much use was made of special effects including the use of three specially-lit trap doors on the steeply raked stage, a hydraulically raised and lowered column (for Hamlet's encounter with the Ghost), light projection onto cascading falls of dry ice steam (for the Ghost), reflecting surfaces (for Ophélie's drowning lake scene), back projections (for the lake itself etc.), golden lighting (for court scenes), scrim projection (night scenes), black lighting (strange effects with lacquer), and probably a few others things I don't remember!

The New National Theatre is especially proud of its technical resources and the Playhouse is said to be as well equipped as the Opera House with lighting and other refinements. Unfortunately (unintentional) elements of kitsch seem to be present in almost all productions put on there. For Hamlet the effects were not inappropriate given the melodramatic nature of the opera, but there were a lot of them!

Simon Holledge



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