New production of Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, “What The Gardener Saw” in TOKYO

Michiyoshi Inoue, Conductor
Hideki Noda, Stage Director

Natale De Carolis, as Count Almaviva
Teodora Gheorghiu, as Countess Rosina Almaviva
Sara KOBAYASHI, as Susanna
Daisuke OYAMA, as Figaro
Maarten Engeltjes, as Cherubino
Kyoko MORIYAMA, as Marcellina
Hidekazu TSUMAYA, as Bartolo
Shuichi MAKIKAWA, as Basilio
Taiki MIURA, as Don Curzio
Erika Colon, as Barbarina
Mitsunori HIROKAWA, as Antonio

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro


The Tokyo leg of the “Le Nozze di Figaro” tour is over.

I’m glad that our performances met with a favorable and enthusiastic reception. NHK did a good job shooting it for TV broadcast and a part of the footage will be also aired during the other NHK TV show “Switch Interview”.

One year ago, I was struggling to prepare for this. Now I’m sincerely thankful to everyone who helped me so I could conduct all the concerts including the additional one.

To my great joy, Dr. Toyoyuki Hayashi, president of the Yukoukai Hospital, Osaka, held a party for me after the concerts. He was the “igniter” of this “Figaro” project. Below I’ve written out the details of how this project came to be. Prepare yourself, it’s a very interesting story.

About twenty years ago, I performed for a concert organized by the Yukoukai Hospital in Osaka (apparently this happened but as I’m a failure of a human being, I easily forget most of people I meet and things I do…) Years slid past, and I conducted the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra at the Symphony Hall, Osaka, five years ago on the occasion of the hospital’s 30th anniversary. Then they requested that I perform for their next 35th anniversary year, the integral “Le Nozze di Figaro” or “Don Giovanni” with the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa. I accepted this proposal with pleasure. However, I muttered inwardly like Mephistopheles that if we stage the ordinary version of “Figaro” that Dr. Hayashi expects, it might not be “thrilling”.

About twenty five years ago, I wrote Hideki Noda that I would be happy to collaborate with him for an opera piece (Again this apparently happened but my memory isn’t very clear... I only remember my sending an enthusiastic letter to tell him how I was moved by his Yume-no-Yuminsha company’s “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” directed by him.) Mr. Noda is a person who is extremely afraid of being bored, and an invulnerable playwright who, like the Queen Scheherazade, never gets killed by the king (here, by the audience) because of his inexhaustible drawer of the stories. Essentially, he is mainly a playwright as well as a director, equivalent to composer who also conducts his own works.

Since 1982, almost every year, I had conducted and directed by myself many stage works including operas for concert. (“Così fan tutte”, some Verismo works, “Carmina Burana”, “Pierrot Lunaire”, Bernstein’s “Missa Brevis”, a short version of “Le Nozze di Figaro”, “Die tote Stadt” [The Dead City], “Ariadne on Naxos”, “La bohème”, “Iris”, “Bluebeard’s Castle”, “Peter and the Wolf, and Satie's ballet “Relâche”) As I felt I did everything I can do alone, I was deeply aware that I should collaborate with an exceptional director if I perform “Figaro”, known as the masterpiece of masterpieces representing the European culture. (As for “Don Giovanni”, I had already worked together with Makoto Sato when I was young.)

That’s the reason why I made every effort to convince Mr. Noda. As he is a busy person and principally directs his own pieces and performs as part of the cast, it was really hard to get him to accept this proposal. (Of course, I went to the New National Theatre Tokyo to see “Macbeth”, the first opera he directed.) It’s been more than two and a half years since I started trying to persuade him. At first, I also thought about “The Barber of Seville”, too.
Some people around him were reluctant, because they didn’t want him to hurt his career with an unnecessary project nor to disturb his theater piece writing cycle by spending much of his time for it. But at the time, I was healthy enough to “chase” him. (With my current sore throat which prevents me talking interminably, it would have been impossible.)

As the extension of part three, I would like to add that I tried to start to perform opera with the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa in 2008. However, the Kanazawa Theater and the Ishikawa Ongakudo Hall didn’t have a deep understanding of this genre yet at the time. They couldn’t tell the difference between staging a real opera by inviting decent singers and spending money and time, and organizing a basic opera concert with simple theater effects. I also explained that Dr. Hayashi would sponsor the project, but they didn’t believe me at first.
Furthermore, I had to start to explain to them who the director Hideki Noda was…
In addition, since it’s a rare opportunity to collaborate with Mr. Noda, I wished to enlarge the project by planning the performances at more than twenty venues all over the country. In the end, this adventurous project got reliable producers: Mr. Yoshiki Nakamura from the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and Mr. Masayuki Yamada who had pushed forward despite many obstacles since the foundation of the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa. When they negotiated with the Bunkacho (Agency for Cultural Affairs) about the subvention, they alternated between joy and embarrassment, saying “we have promoted cooperation among different regions, but didn’t imagine a cultural project with such a wide scale!” Indeed, I’m proud that the network created by the “Figaro” project became spider web which will hereafter connect many orchestras and theaters throughout all of Japan.

The casting was the hardest mission.
We changed the roles so the characters are Japanese. We auditioned several people, we needed those who could speak Italian fluently and pronounce Japanese well, have an acting ability enough to live up to Mr. Noda’s high demands and exchange their ideas with him without hesitation.
Many actors (They don’t know how hard staging opera is. Alas, there exists this desperate gap and incomprehension between theater and opera worlds.) came to this audition, but they couldn’t sing well, really… “Le Nozze di Figaro” is beyond even top class musical actors.
We also wanted to invite first-class singers for foreign roles.
However, as we set two long rehearsal periods for spring and fall seasons, it was quite difficult to find those who could spare four months totally for a director they would work with for the first time and for this strange team (which is not, I mean, the New National Theatre Tokyo, for example.) Recall that “Le Nozze di Figaro” is standard repertoire for singers of the first order. We have our pride and they have theirs…
As for the Countess, for some time when I couldn’t think about anything at the hospital for my cancer treatment, I had been pressured by a promoter who almost forcibly recommended a singer. At the time, I didn’t have the strength to refuse. The situation changed again and again since then, and we finally wished Cherubino to be played by a man and Susanna to be sung by a Japanese. We then choose Maarten Engeltjes (Cherubino was a new role for him) and Sara Kobayashi for Susanna. I believed in them and my decision, but I was still scared. Also, it took a lot of nerve for me to ask Ms. Gheorghiu, already chosen as Susanna, to sing the Countess instead. I made all those decisions in the hospital when I couldn’t sleep nor even drink water for two weeks consecutively! Dr. Hayashi came by to advise against my insistence on giving two performances in Osaka, but apparently his will was defeated by my absolute silence. Actually, I couldn’t utter a sound because of the treatment. Anyway, the casting was decided with a lot of minute attention, indiscretions and fortuities. Well, that’s nothing less than life in miniature!

If we only used the original Italian script, Mr. Noda and myself couldn’t really be at our best. So I wanted him to be highly motivated enough to rewrite the whole script in Japanese, though if he did it simplistically there would have been a high risk that the result would have been merely a local “translated version”... That’s why I came up with the idea to mix the two languages. However, I simply proposed that he use Japanese only for recitatives and other similar lines, and to set the story in a hospital in Japan during the “Rokumeikan” era, a period when a Western-style palace of that name was built. Mr. Noda finally decided to set it during the time of the arrival of the Black Ships, the end of the Edo era. (They came from America but not Italy, of course, but they brought the fierce Tsunami of the western culture to Japan.) With this setting, Mr. Noda began to swim in the “Figaro” world like a salmon going up a waterfall. That was a brilliant idea, indeed.
Most people notice that there is something just a little bit “off” about Japanese opera actors singing in a foreign language with western style costumes and wigs. In addition, the revolution against the aristocracy never happened here in Japan. The Meiji Restoration was a resistance (=revolution) against the western colonialism and the western culture.
Right after I lost 10 kilograms because of cancer radiation therapy, Mr. Noda held some workshop style rehearsals for this project at Tama Art University, where I saw him, smiley but serious, getting new ideas like gathering shells on the beach. He was letting students, the acting ensemble, Mr. Oyama (Figaro), Ms. Kobayashi (Susanna) and assistant directors swim freely, and then he would suck their young blood like a venomous snake to create a whole new world.
Without knowing that the production method of the theater world had reached such development recently, I was (not shocked, but) astonished and amused. It was as if I was seeing an intelligent, adult version of the theater production workshop I used to participate in when I was in the “Kusunoki” class at the Seijo Gakuen elementary school. I got a feeling of unity born of a world in the process of being built on stage, I keenly felt how peaceful a world this was.

The secondly hardest task was the modification of the score. As we kept changing it every week, one of four copy machines belonging to the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa got broken. At the beginning, each chorus group for the ten different venues complained often, as the text was very hard to sing (even though their actual performance time was short). The assistant conductor Masahiro Sato played a key role on the music staff team. Although being busy with many other projects as a conductor with high linguistic ability and rich experience in foreign opera production, he had sharpened his pencil and his body to contend with the assistant directors, while pushing me who had gotten tired and passionless for music after the cancer treatment.

Rehearsing with the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa and selling the tickets of the two concerts organized by Dr. Hayashi at the Festival Hall with 2500 seats were real issues. In addition, as for Tokyo, I was the one who proposed running the risk of having an additional performance scheduled. Even though the first two sold out in a flash, adding dates always makes everyone nervous. At the opening day in Tokyo, the audience was like one from London. I let my imagination run wild, fancying that everyone thought like this:

‘If this production is so hyped then I have to see it. Hey-hey you guys, don’t let the actors move during the overture and don’t let the gardener talk. The authentic interpretation is the best, you know. Well, I cannot answer clearly if they ask me what is “authentic”, but I suppose my value is authentic. Hold it, the story is unexpectedly easy to understand and the acting doesn’t disturb the music. I feel familiar with this version as if this story was my own affair… Now it makes sense that “Figaro” was a big hit in Prague, mecca of theater, in Mozart's lifetime. I’m getting amused… what? It came to the end already? Time passed fast. Why that surprising gun? Well, women always pretend to forgive us, but they will surely bring up the same affair later… how scared… but men are the same, too, probably. I felt like “Figaro” was short for the first time in my life!!! I can go back home without feeling worn out!’

Alright, thanks for reading this to the end. Now I’m in a hotel in Yamagata and about to leave for a rehearsal with the Yamagata Symphony Orchestra. We’ll give “Figaro” in a smaller hall, which seems to be a proper size for this opera. Am I right? Let’s see…!

PS, (Oct. 28)
Yes, I was right. It’s easier for singers with that size, too, though the lighting team suffers.
I’m discovering other things in Yamagata besides the Yamagata Symphony Orchestra and the specialty yam-potato soup (which is delicious, I have to admit). It’s the day off for the singers and the stage crew. I’m going to rehearse with the orchestra face to face from now on.


ショスタコーヴィチの魂が疾走する! 井上道義の才気が炸裂する! これぞショスタコーヴィチの真髄!


1冊でわかるポケット教養シリーズ 指揮者の世界