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Standing Ovations for "Ai-En" in Heidelberg's Opera Tent
Successful European premiere of Japanese love opera in original language

The European premiere of "Ai-En" by the Japanese composer Minoru Miki touched the audience, and created with a phenomenal performance by the singers and orchestra an opera experience that can aptly be described as sensuous. The Mainzer Allgemeine newspaper said of the premiere: "Without a doubt, the European premiere of 'Ai-En' will go down in the annals of the Heidelberg Theater. It was a performance in which absolutely everything was exactly right: the music, the singers and the scenes. Minoru Miki is one of the most significant creaters of tone in the world today."

Heidelberg's Theater had taken on the not inconsiderable risk of introducing into its repertoire a Japanese opera in the original language. The enormously enthusiastic response on the part of the audience compensated the cast and crew for its extraordinary work beforehand in familiarizing itself with the Japanese language. The young German-Japanese director Nelly Danker, a student of the famous Hans Neuenfels, created in her production with the set and costume designer Andreas Auerbach an enchanted Asian world of the stage.

Together with the renowned librettist Jakucho Setouchi - authoress, Buddhist nun, peace activist, and recipient of Japan's most distinguished literature prize, - the composer Minoru Miki entwines fictional characters with actual historic figures. "Ai-En" tells the story of a secret melody and a great fairytale love in eighth century Japan. With this work, Miki brings to a close his nine-part cycle of historical operas. Minoru Miki is one of the most important contemporary composers in Japan.

For her double roll as the "first" and the "second" love, Hye-Sung Na won tumultous applaus. The beauty and purity of her soprano imbued the libretto with haunting meaning. Of high intensity was the interaction between Hye-Sung Na and the young Korean singer Byoung Nam Hwang, whose  vigorous yet sensitive tenor in the character of Ono Kiyoto won his listeners over. Worthy of special   acclaim was also the opera choir under the direction of Jan Schweiger.

A highpoint was the playing of the Pipa by Yang Jing in the third act. The young Chinese woman is worldwide the best and most sought after specialist on this historic plucked instrument. When Yang Ying intoned her unique solo, the audience held its breath to catch each exotic sound. The Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Dietger Holm richly rewarded the public with its colourful and precise composition of the musical score, which forms a bridge between the tones of the western orchestra and the musical tradition of the Far East.

"Ai-En" premiered in 2006 in the New National Theater in Tokyo, with whose support the Heidelberg production has now come into being. The Heidelberg Theater has made it a basic endeavour, under the directorship of Peter Spuhler, to present each year a second performance of the most important opera premiere. Thus in previous years Hans Zender's "Chief Joseph," John Adams's "A Flowering Tree," and Hans Werner Henze's "Phaedra" were very successfully staged. "Ai-En" shows that the search need not stop at the boundaries of the European continent.

To the Heidelberg premiere came representatives of the Japanese embassy in Berlin and the Japanese Cultural Center in Köln, as well as Heidelberg's Lord High Mayor Dr. Eckart Würzner, the Mayor of Cultural Affairs Dr. Joachim Gerner, and many Asian guests. The close connections that exist between Japan and Heidelberg have been thus enriched with a further bridge of understanding. The opera will be presented in the Heidelberg Opera Tent in eight further productions, the next performances being on Thursday, March 25, Monday, April 19 and Tuesday, April 27.

Further press commentaries:

"Jubilation over the premiere of a Japanese opera in Heidelberg. Hye-Sung Na in the double role of the twin sisters Sakurako and Ryurei is quite simply fabulous. The young soprano, who debuted in Heidelberg as Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly, won over her audience with her impeccable high tones and supple lyricism - a perfect casting. Very special acclaim went to Yang Jing, the virtuosa of the Pipa, the Chinese lute. This consummate young artist, whose playing was in part integrated within the orchestra but additionally in solo selections, stood out with distinction and received spontaneous outbursts of applause."
Rhine Neckar Newspaper

"All respect may be accorded to the Heidelberger Theater for the extraordinarily complex task they have taken on. The trump cards of the ambitious production are its focussing on essentials, and the  suggestion of insights offered into Far Eastern world concepts. The choir is sublime. At the conductor's stand of the Philharmonic Orchestra, Dietger Holm directed with both empathy and rigor. The audience was enthralled with the magnificent accomplishment of the entire ensemble."

"The composer makes high demands: dangerously slippery glissandi, marvelous flutter-tonguing,  clusters of discharges. And yet the musical score remains always accessible to the broad public!"
Mannheimer Morgen

Minoru Miki