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A special production of the Twin Opera “THE RIVER SUMIDA” and “KUSABIRA”

This twin opera was commissioned by GEIDANKYO , an organization for Japanese stage artists groups. It premiered in 1995 and was produced by the Produce Center. Minoru Miki composed his sixth opera as a combination of a tragedy and a comedy based upon a famous Noh and Kyogen Play. The plan and the libretto made by Mr. Asaya Fujita who has cooperated with Miki for more than thirty years in the theatrical field. This twin opera had to perform in a usual Noh theatre; it has special traditional scenery but no orchestra pit and must be performed under fixed lighting. Also the space is limited because of the theatre’s traditional use. Miki has kept the opera’s vocal and instrumental numbers as minimum as possible, and the opera can perform without conductor when required. Miki’s five regular operas need an orchestra pit and many singers, and their performances last more than two hours. So this twin opera is Miki’s only chamber opera. The opera is very suitable as a touring production in foreign country’s not only because of its small staff and minimal equipment, but also because it represents traditional Japanese theatre. The opera .can perform by approximately 10 singers including the chorus, 5 instrumental players and 6 dancers.

The story of “THE RIVER SUMIDA”

The original Noh play of this story created in 15th Century.
At the beginning of the play, 6~8 people sing a sutra while walking along the Sumida River, a famous river passing on the east side of Edo (old Tokyo). They are Nenbutsu-shu (a kind of pilgrim) and also recite an “Ode to Spring”. Enter a passenger and then a ferryman. After their song, a crazy woman comes in. This woman led an ordinary life with her 12 year-old-son in Kyoto, which was the capital until 19th Century. One year ago, an evil minded merchant brought the son out to the eastern country to sell him. The woman went crazy. She appears by the River Sumida as a female entertainer who does a crazy dance.
After she rides in the small ferry boat, the ferryman tells her a sad story which happened just one year ago:
A boy has reached to the bank of Sumida River. He is so weak, he is almost dead. The boy says to the ferryman “Please build a tomb for me by the river after I die, because I hope to see passengers from the tomb.” Then he passes away. This is the story the ferryman tells the woman on the boat. The crazy woman feels that the boy must have been her own son, and weeps deeply. After arrivinge on the other side of the river, the ferryman said to her “Let visit his tomb, and pray with sutra”. During the sutra, she can hear her son’s voice as they sing together. She also sees his image behind the tomb. Suddenly, however, the image disappears and only spring glass remains on the bank.……
Even at present, many kidnap incidents occur in every where. Miki devoted his composition praying to never happen such a sad incident.

<NB> This story is used by Benjamin Britten in English for his famous church opera “Curlew River”. The world premiere of the opera has directed by Colin Graham who premiered Miki’s second opera ”An Actor’s Revenge” in 1979 and third opera “Joruri” in 1985. He also wrote the libretto of Miki’s seventh opera “The Tale of Genji” which will premiere in 2000 under Graham’s direction by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, U.S.A.

The story of “KUSABIRA”

Tokoro-no-mono (a person in the village) feels uneasy when some huge Kusabira (mushrooms) sprout up in his house. He asks Yamabushi (a Buddhist monk) to pray for the Kusabira to vanish. Alas! But his praying cause the Kusabira to increase more and more. Miki sets these mushrooms to symbolize the ladies who have been disgraced by the phony Yamabushi. So the story moves to our contemporary society.

Minoru Miki