Opera

“Fat House” created by Erwin Wurm at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna

I am currently in Vienna, bustling with Christmas markets, but I feel restless and flurried. Rehearsals are about to begin shortly for the play, “Kurotokage (Black Lizard).” It was only when Yukio Mishima pleaded with Akihiro Miwa that the play came to be performed for the first time, and it requires considerable resolution for me to act in this play.

The battle between the great detective, Kogoro Akechi, and the female burglar, “Kurotokage,” told in eloquent words, provides the ultimate form of entertainment, while also being a romantic love story for the mature audience. But the lines being so poignant and stir within me a conflict between my intellect and emotions. If I only remember my lines vaguely, I end up searching frantically for the right words, being unable to open up my heart. On the other hand, if I allow myself to become too emotional, I end up forgetting my lines. I spend all day every day reading the script in the hope of breaking free of the spell it has cast on me, allowing me to act with greater freedom. To help me remember my lines, I have printed my lines in blue, on pink paper, which I have stored in my iPad. I mutter my lines while I exercise on the treadmill or step machine, with sweat pouring out, at the fitness center.

At night, I have been going to the Vienna State Opera House to watch opera performances and learn how to carry myself on stage and project my voice. I’ve managed to obtain tickets at bargain prices of around 14 Euros for seats in the upper gallery. At times, if you go just before starting time, there are dealers who begin dumping their leftover tickets, and even end up giving them away for free. After obtaining my ticket one day, I sat down beside an elderly lady who claimed she has been watching operas for decades to pass away her time. She taught me a lot, telling me all kinds of things like, “That tenor has a wonderful technique.”

“Madame Butterfly” is not only discriminatory against women, but it is also racist, and I had avoided it ever since I saw it over 20 years ago. But I went to see it again upon finding out that Tsuguharu Foujita, whom I had once played the wife of in a movie, had designed the props. I didn’t have great expectations for the opera, and in the scene where she is bought by an American guy for a mere 100 yen (around 1 million yen in today’s money), after which he enjoys a fleeting moment of time together in knowing that he will eventually have American wife, I found myself angered as expected by the numerous misrepresentations of Japanese culture. I could not ignore the discomfort I felt, and although I knew how the story would end, I still found myself crying upon seeing Madame Butterfly choosing death over losing her husband and child at the same time. Much to my mortification, I cannot help but give credit to how well the story is written. Maybe a person from Egypt feels the same kind of discomfort upon seeing “Aida,” but we are oblivious to this as we are moved to tears. Perhaps overdramatization is a necessary evil in playwriting.

The traditional performing art of opera is evolving, so that not all performances have splendiferous stage sets and dazzling costumes. Efforts are apparently being made to search for ways to adapt universal stories to modern times. Some have succeeded while others have failed to make this transformation, and I hope to be a witness to these bold challenges.

Performances of “Kurotokage,” directed by David Leveaux, will begin at Nissay Theatre early next year, on January 9. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

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