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The World Premiere of “The Tale of Genji”

   The world premiere of my seventh opera “ The Tale of Genji ” has done well on June 15 in Saint Louis, U.S.A. The Opera theatre of Saint Louis performed the opera also on the 17, 21,23, 25 of June. At every performance, we received a full standing ovation.
   The data of the world premiere of “The Tale of Genji” are following:

  Opera in two acts, sung in English
Music by Minoru Miki
Original story and libretto by Colin Graham
Adopted from the book by Lady Murasaki Shikibu
Commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
General Director , Charles Mackay
June 15,17,21,23,25

Conductor Steuart Bedford
Stage Director Colin Graham
Scenic and Costume designer Setsu Asakura
Choreographer Kikushiro Onoe
Associate Designers Jun Matsuno
Robin VerHage-Abrams
Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind
Wig and Make-up Designer Tom Watson
Stage Manager Gretchen Mueller
Associate Director Tim Ocel
Assistant to the Director and Choreographer
Eda Holmes
Chorus Master Cary John Franklin
ranslator/Interpreter Yoshimi Fukuzawa

Genji Mel Ulrich
Old Emperor/Recluse Andrew Wentzel
To-no-Chujo Richard Troxell
Fujitsubo/Murasaki Elisabeth Comeaux
Rokujo/Lady of Akashi Cheryl Evans
Shonagon/Kokiden Josepha Gayer
Aoi Jessica Miller
Suzaku Carleton Chambers
Koremitsu Eric Jordan


Opera Theatre Ensemble

Pipa /Qin solo

Yang Jing
21-string Koto solo Reiko Kimura

Members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Hans Vonk, Music Director and Conductor

   Now I would like to reflect and tell you about the rehearsals for the premiere.

   Since the earliest music rehearsal on May 8, I had some anxiety about the vocal lines. Because I am a foreigner who does not usually speak English. Although I have already composed two former operas in English “An Actor’s Revenge”(1979) and “Joruri”(1985).
This time I tried to express some ancient feeling of the Japanese Court around 10th to 11th Century in English. After the music rehearsal, several main singers like Mel, Elisabeth and Josepha expressed their deep love of singing my melodies and showed genuine surprise at its variety. Mel said that he was hearing my melodies always, even in his dreams, he formally only has these experiences with Mozart. I felt very honored, and could feel the success of the opera.
   Then we went ahead to overcome problems and difficulties one by one in the rehearsals. Such as with the staging(moving), orchestra rehearsals, scenery, costumes, lightning, and so forth.
   I’d like to tell you about whole opera more, but here, let me introduce the musical aspects.

   Half a month before the first performance, I let singing free; they started learning score before music rehearsal, so can do their own ways. However, it takes a little time for orchestra members to understand my special writing. In parallel with orchestra rehearsals, on June 4th, we also started to practice on stage using the piano. Thanks to starting to practice at the theatre so fast I realized important problems, which we otherwise would not have been able to overcome for this coming performance. For instance, it is hard to show the chorus’s incantation scene when Aoi died. The functions of this theater were not fit to do that. Of course Colin knew theatre’s function so much that he didn’t write visual chorus scene in his libretto. I only imagined a primitive incantation here, and write in the score a chorus music with variable rhythmic patterns to change total music atmosphere to prepare the appearance of Rokujo’s live spirit. I had a slight hope to see its violent effect at least by shadows of chorus and fire. But after watching theatre function, I made me consent to give up my hope and brought it to future chances.
   The other problem was so many doubling roles. I knew several examples of one doubling roles which show very effective for drama. But in this production, four important soloists play eight roles! I wondered if the audience could recognize who is who. However, each soloist enjoyed each roles, and even played them quite well in different sense.
   From the beginning, I knew the opera was too long for the world premiere. To economize on total duration of production, Colin and I set the opera as two acts (my ideal thought was an opera in three acts). We also cut many optional places with getting Steuart’s idea. He conducted the world premiere of “An Actor’s Revenge” in London in 1979. He has special talent to understand scores. One year ago, he sung to Colin all the vocal lines of this opera with his own piano accompaniment Then they sent me mails with much thanks for my composition.
   However, even after much cutting, Act I needed almost one and a half hours. I thought we will have to divide the opera into three acts on the next occasion. The original story of “The Tale of Genji” is consisted of many loves talking in the court, and the Heian era was a very calm age. Colin and I gave the opera several dynamic and fast scenes, but to keep the mode of the original story and Heian era, I needed to set calm and moderate paces, for example Gagaku music. In general I believe that people loved this atmosphere and could concentrate on the drama. My anxiety was that they would concentrate too much on Act I, and as a result become feel difficulty to appreciate Act II physically without knowing it.

   By the way, in March, tickets for the performance on the first day and second day were already sold out. I did not have any worries about the number of the audience. I am so lucky and appreciate all the guests who bought those tickets. Besides this, OTSL’s supporters came to see the opera one after another and always just praised it. This made my heart relaxed.

   On the day for the first orchestra dress rehearsal, Colin said to me, “ Finally, the time is coming. It is hard to make myself calm down.” He experienced directing four hundred productions, and this is his fifty – fifth premiere of a new opera. If such a great director felt like that, it is natural that the singers were nervous, too.
   The stage of this theater projects to the audience seats. Also, the orchestra pit is under the stage, and open only half way to the audience. The only difficulty is the balance of the orchestra itself.
   Even though we still had some problems, I was quite calm. Why so calm? I was wondering if I was satisfied with expressing all that I needed to in the full score. It took ten years from when I began to plan this opera, and three years for composing. Also, I do strongly believe in the success of this performance because of great efforts by the staff, cast and musicians and a good response from them.

   The opera, “ The Tale of Genji ” started with a piccolo like Japanese Ryuteki in Gagaku music in a Court scene, where is much far away from Japan. This opera would change the thousand year history of The Tale of Genji. We got a much stronger orchestra sound than they did in the dress rehearsal. Now I will tell you the construction of the opera according to its order.
   The chorus of courts guided the Emperor Kiritsubo. He confessed his past life and informed Fujitsubo, Genji (Shining one), Kokiden, Suzaku, and Aoi. There are painted scrolls behind them that Ms. Setsu Asakura beautifully designed. Then, the Pipa plays the dramatic theme for the living spirit of princess Rokujo. This theme plays one of the most important roles in the opera. Following, the various episodes related to Genji start.
   A forbidden love duet sung by Genji and Fujitsubo, the depression of Princess Rokujyo, a humorous aria by To-no-Chujo, and finally the aria “It Is Always One I See” sung by Genji which indicates his expectation to meet Murasaki, and took the audience into a fantasy world.
   Like the following scene when Genji suffered from continuous nightmares, it is no doubt that not everyone loves our opera In the past, whenever people tried to make a drama using this difficult theme, The Tale of Genji, the results were almost always not successful. I often met inconsiderate criticisms. During performances of this opera, however I felt an unbelievable tension from most of the audience which was concentrating on the drama and music. “The Autumn Festival” with Bugaku dance choreographed by Kikushiro Onoe, the peaceful relationship between Genji and Murasaki through koto lesson, the appearance of the living spirit of Princess Rokujo, the scene when Kokiden uses scandals Genji has caused and exile him to a distant and lonely shore at Suma, the storms there and sailing to Akashi, the love between the Lady of Akashi and Genji, the farewell letter from Fujitsubo, the death of Murasaki by a dead spirit, and the last pathetic aria sung by Genji. Then we returned at plain stage of the Heian Court.

   My operas seem to be rare. They are not the same as the operas created in the twentieth Century which did not make singers delighted. If singers are accustomed my operas, they are sure to be satisfied with the well-singing melodies. On the other hand, quite different from usual operas I have developed many new instrumental aspects in my own way. Specially many Asian traditional solo instrumentalists seems to recognized their ability through my operas. I am so happy to introduce their tremendous musicality and technique not only for the listeners of ethnic music but also for the world opera goers. In case of Genji, Yang Jing and Reiko Kimura praised very much from all persons including every reviews.
   At each performance, I was surprised to feel stronger music than the previous performance. This feeling was very new in my long experience of my opera productions. When I saw the last performance, I realized the power of the opera was almost two times that of the premiere evening.

   After the curtain call on the premiere performance, Colin, Steuart, and I met back stage, and moved to hug each other with a feeling of “ Triumph! ” Then we were at the reception on the huge lawn, under a clear sky and a round smiling moon. I was sure the opera, The Tale of Genji, would make the dreams of the audience, who need beauty and drama, come true by being surrounded by various people.

   Now I am profoundly grateful to Colin Graham who wrote the libretto and directed the opera, Charles Mackay and the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, many American supporters, and the friendly audience, including one hundred Japanese supporters who came to Saint Louis from Japan just to attend our performances.
   The Nissei Theatre in Tokyo decided to invite Opera Theatre of Saint Louis to hold the Japanese premiere of “The Tale of Genji” in September 2001. In 1988 the Nissei Theatre invited OTSL and had the Japanese premiere of my third opera “Joruri” successfully. Just same of that time, “The Tale of Genji” will be sung in English, but on a little bit bigger scale than the world premiere. We are thinking to change several things according to the theatre’s function and circumstance. The opera will be remake into three acts, and become more acceptable by audiences.


Opera: East Meets West By HELDI WALESON

Minoru Miki