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Hanjo in Brussels

Hanjo, De Munt, 2004 © Johan JacobsI'm trying to follow up on the operas I listed in my preview of the Opera Season, 2004–2005. (See my post on the reviews of the Pelléas at the Opéra Bastille in Paris.) Another unusual production I noted was Toshio Hosokawa's Hanjo, at the Théâtre de La Monnaie (De Munt) in Brussels (September 7 to 12, 2004), a new opera based on a modern Noh play by Yukio Mishima. Here are some photographs of the production. The only news reference to the production I could find, from Abeille Info, was about its first appearance, this past summer, at the Festival International d'Aix-en-Provence, which coproduced the opera (see this watercolor of Hanako's costume). Here is my translation of what one reviewer (Claude Jottrand, July 16, for Forum Opera) said about the performance in Aix-en-Provence (which has some good pictures, too):

Mishima, whom Western countries know more as a novelist, wanted to be a dramatist first and foremost, as a great admirer of the classical tragedy as well as the traditional Japanese Noh play, from which he drew a good part of his inspiration. Five of his modern Noh plays were translated into English by Donald Keene (but also into French by Marguerite Yourcenar, who was especially inspired by this difficult exercise). It's on the basis of one of the English translations that Toshio Hosokawa, considered today, since the death of Takemitsu, as the most important composer of the Japanese school, composed his first opera, Hanjo, for three voices and chamber orchestra, dedicated to his friend Kazushi Ono, director of the Monnaie orchestra.

Through this work, for which he also wrote the libretto, Hosokawa succeeds in creating a remarkable synthesis of poem and music, by integrating movement, all of it under the sign of contemplation. Hanako, a young woman [a geisha], goes every morning to the Tokyo train station and searches the faces of the men there in the hope of finding Yoshida, her one-time client of three years ago, who promised to come find her. They exchanged their fans as a sign of faith, but when Yoshida came back, Hanako had been fired from her work and could not be found. Since then, she has taken refuge in hope and in imagination, almost to the point of insanity; she was brought back by Jitsuko, a woman painter who was moved by her story and beauty but who lives in fear of losing her if Yoshida comes back. He soon appears and asks to see Hanako again, which Jitsuko opposes. He cries out his love to be heard by her, but when the lovers find themselves face to face at last, Hanako chooses not to recognize Yoshida and continues in her frustrated desire and the sublime exhaustion of a wait that is enough by itself.

Hosokawa's music owes much to that of his teacher, Takemitsu, and thus indirectly to the Boulez school, but with numerous personal elements, a great refinement of color and timber—you also think of Berio—an immense tenderness and a particularly subtle sense of balance, made of juxtaposed sound climates that perfectly integrate the voice into the instrumental writing. The vocal parts are treated according to three alternating styles: song, spoken voice, and a sort of intermediate Sprechgesang, which mingle easily. Very well represented by the fluid conducting of Ono, who caresses the music with bare hands like a sculpture, served up with much care and respect by the Monnaie chamber orchestra, the score "adheres" wonderfully with the libretto, which it reinforces both in sense and poetry. Then, the score ends as it began, with the whispering breath of nature, the imperceptible movement of lie suspending in waiting.
The singers were good, as were the design of Teresa de Keersmaeker and the costumes of Tim van Steenbergen. France Musiques recorded the Aix performance, which will be broadcast this year, and the production will appear again at the Vienna Festwochen in May 2005. You can also read Pieter Bijlsma's Letter from Aix-en-Provence 2004, for Opera Japonica.

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