*This article is based on an interview conducted on April 28, 2021.
In August 2021, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg will be performed at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan as an official program of the Cultural Olympiad for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A performance at the New National Theatre, Tokyo is also scheduled for this fall, as the event is attracting more and more attention. Accordingly, we asked SATO Sayaka of the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan’s Planning and Production Division, who is in charge of the production, about the highlights of this spectacular masterpiece, which is popular around the world.
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and
ONO Kazushi at the Mature Stage of Their Collaboration
This performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has too many highlights to count, but for starters, this is its first time being performed in Tokyo in 16 years. It’s worth watching for that fact alone. Furthermore, world-class singers are coming to Japan, and there will be a full lineup of talented Japanese singers as well. The orchestra will be the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, which is based at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, and the conductor will be world-renowned maestro ONO Kazushi. This collaboration is at its mature stage now, with a sound that could not have been achieved any time previously. Also, this program—Wagner’s only comedy, apparently—has the attraction of being humorous and easy to understand.
Opera is often associated with royalty and the aristocracy, but the main characters of this performance are commoners.
As described in the famous saying “Art and people grow and bloom together”, the townsfolk try to preserve and advance the arts. The theme of preserving the arts is one that is relevant today, transcending time and social conditions. I think it resonates even more deeply right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A production method that shifts the time period and setting is used so that its content is suited to our modern sensibilities instead of being strange and old-fashioned.
That Is the Real Appeal of Opera.
If you have never seen an opera before, you should experience the atmosphere of the theater by watching one live. Whenever I go to the theater, I think that a good performance involves not only a passionate performance by the performers but also the conveying of the audience’s feelings to the performers. That produces tension and concentration that have a synergistic effect, making the audience feel — how shall I put it? — that they are experiencing something amazing. The sense of unity that is shared by actually being in the theater is something that can only be experienced live. I encourage you to visit the theater to experience that special feeling.
As a singer, why do I sing? Naturally, I sing because I enjoy singing, but the number-one reason is that I want many people to hear beautiful words and melodies through my voice. How happy I would be if I could bring healing to the hearts of people. Although we’re in the midst of a pandemic, I’m sure the day will come when we can listen to music normally again, so let's persevere in the meantime.
Although conditions that make it difficult for people to interact persist, I want to convey the true joy of art, which can only be experienced live, so that it is not forgotten. I want people to experience the limitless heights of temporal art — the synergy that occurs when the feelings of the performers and the audience fuse, resonate, and respond to each other.
Summer Festival Opera 2019–2020 Japan↔Tokyo↔World
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Chikamatsu Monzaemon, a Japanese playwright from the 17th century, said, “Unreal but not unreal. Real but not real.” I was reminded of those words when I watched The Speed of Light, a theatrical project by Marco Canale, who is a theater and audiovisual artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Thirteen actors — all amateurs — were selected from among the general public. They were also old enough to be called senior citizens. Rehearsals started in fall of 2019, with performances originally scheduled to begin in summer of 2020, so they have had nearly two years of preparation time.
The experience of watching this performance begins by signing in at a park in Tokyo. After we finish signing in, we stand around some potted plants, and the performers greet us by singing “Hamabe no uta (Song of the Beach)”. After that, the audience is divided into three groups. Together with the performers, we slowly make our way to the second venue nearby, taking the potted plants with us. We sit on temporary benches placed near the sacred tree in the precincts of Taishido Hachiman Shrine, which is one of the three second venues, and we are given notes that describe the experiences and recollections of the performers. They are about life during post-war reconstruction and time spent with family. They are about the performers’ own childhoods and the city of Tokyo.
As the words are read out loud, the performers sing a related song from the Showa era. The audience is already unsure if these are true recollections of the performers or not. Perhaps it is because we have so many shared experiences, but it is a strange experience to lose the distinction between “my” memories and someone else’s. After that, we move to a special stage within the precincts of the same shrine where the potted plants we brought have been placed, and then the main story begins.
The story revolves around the history of a family disputing over whether to preserve or demolish a certain Noh theater. The lives of each performer, their thoughts when they applied to participate in this performance, and the complicated relationship between director Marco Canale and his father unfold in parallel. Again, the audience wonders how much of the story is true and how much is invented. The boundary between truth and invention is unclear, and we are drawn into the performance as the scenes change from one to another.
Performed Around the World.
Marco Canale has presented similar theater projects at FIBA, a theater festival in Buenos Aires, and also in Germany. These projects take local history and culture as their theme, and are created with the participation of the community in each locale to create a mix between documentary and fiction.
In the precincts of the shrine, which has an outdoor stage built especially for this event, the performance happens while visitors to the shrine come and go. The rustling of trees and chirping of birds also contribute as sound effects. Outdoor stages have an excitement that feels different from indoor theaters.
The words of Chikamatsu quoted at the start of this article continue with the statement, “That is where amusement is found.” (This is called “kyojitsu-himaku theory” — the inseparability of the unreal and the real.) Between the unreal and the real is where amusement is found, according to Chikamatsu. In The Speed of Light, an old woman who has feelings for the Noh theater embarks on a soul-seeking journey. The director, who wishes to witness his father’s final moments, leaves the stage and returns to his hometown.
This world of the unreal and the real that unfolds in 2021 Tokyo has created an indulgent “in-between space” that seems to fascinate the audience.
Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13
The Speed of Light
*This information is current as of June 11, 2021. Please see each program’s official website for the latest information.
I love movies and technology. I travel around Tokyo by bicycle. I enjoy the scenes of daily life that I experience while riding, like the smell of dinner.
I love movies and entertainment in general, traditional crafts, and manufacturing sites. I believe that intuition is important today. I like cats and try to get close whenever I see one.
I love contemporary art, movies, and music. I’ve also become interested in traditional performing arts recently. I also have a weakness for good food and watching sports.