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The beautiful goddess Otohime presents Urashima Tarō with a mysterious box that he is never to open. Illustration by Edmund Dulac (1916)

The beautiful queen of the sea, Otohime, presents Urashima Tarō with a mysterious box that he is never to open. Illustration by Edmund Dulac (1916).

East meets West in Hastings

Next Thursday, 24 September, the International Composers Festival presents an evening of the exquisite music of composer, Nobuya Monta. It will include the one act opera, Otohimé; a world-premiere in its full orchestral version and performed in stunning national costumes coming specially from Japan, writes HOT’s Chris Cormack

Otohimé is the name for the queen of the sea in many Japanese fishermen’s tales. She seduces a handsome but very poor fisherman who is secretly in love with a beautiful daughter of a provincial wealthy man. Such a fantastic and tragic story with a love triangle is extremely rare in Japan.

After the Japanese premiere, the composer made another version in French, so that it was accessible to European singers. It was performed in part at a master class in The Conservatory of Brussels, Belgium – and English baritone, Andrew Mayor, has performed the role of fisherman three times: in Kyoto, Kobe and London. Kanae Yasumoto, Yukiko Okabe and Ayaka Tanimoto also perform as singers in this evening’s opera.

Composer Nobuya Monta

Composer Nobuya Monta

Although set in Japan with Japanese costume, the Japanese composer, Nobuya Monta bestrides both worlds of music. Educated in music composition at London University, Monta acknowledges a love of French impressionist music and we should rather think Debussy than Kabuki or Noh; the influence of Japanese traditional music is much less – although still noticeable – and the drama, love triangle, is, as said, more Western in nature.

Most people in England are aware of the Japanese affinity to impressionism; there was a time when Japanese investors continually drove up the prices of impressionist art! Less well known is the profound Japanese influence on Western art, including impressionism in the late 19th century.  “Japonism” (coined from the French ‘Japonisme’, first used in 1872) refers to the Japanese influence on fashion and aesthetics in Western culture in the late 19th century. The term is used particularly to refer to Japanese influence on impressionism. This period also saw great interest in Japanese mystic philosophy; Maurice Maeterlinck, who produced the libretto for Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande, incorporated Eastern mysticism in most of his works.
Japanese Cherry Blossom picture Norbert Weber

Japanese Cherry Blossom: picture Norbert Weber

The concert will also include some of Monta’s wonderfully melodic chamber works with performances by young Scottish violinist, Daniel Rainey, as well as the great flautist, Hiroshi Oe and the great musicians of the Danzi Osaka Wind Quintet, who came together specially for the Festival from the top of music departments of Japanese universities, all sharing a love for the German composer, Franz Danzi. For this first part of the evening, Monta has selected pieces which evoke Japanese and Asian taste, mood and atmosphere. For instance, Sakura-mai (cherry blossoms) is based on one of the most well-known Japanese traditional tunes.

This year, Nobuya Monta has brought with him more than twenty fine musicians from Japan, including the distinguished chief conductor, Hiroshi Endo. Anglo-Japanese friendship is further strengthened in that English families in Hastings, Battle and Bexhill are playing host to the visitors. Nobuya Monta looks forward to collaboration between professional and amateur musicians in Hastings and producing ‘a most gorgeous and exciting performance’.

An evening with the exquisite music of composer, Nobuya Monta, Thursday 24 September 2015 at 7.30pm : All Saints Church, All Saints St, Hastings, TN34 3BP
buy tickets online £12 (£15 at the door) or buy your tickets in person at:
Cobblers Of The Old Town, 64 High St, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3EW (see map) Imagen, 20 Claremont, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 1HA (see map)  and Phoenix & Plum, 13 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN37 6EA (see map).

Otohimé synopsis

The opera recounts a tragic tale of love, which happened many centuries ago in Ama-no-Hashidate, one of the most beautiful places on the Japanese coast.

Scene 1. A path near a fishing village. It is a sunny day and Kagumé, the daughter of a wealthy local man, is walking with her nurse, Sato. They hear the voices of girls calling “Yasura” in the distance. A handsome young fisherman appears. Kagumé immediately falls in love with him. Sato tries to persuade her to forget him, because he is too poor for her. But Kagumé pleads her cause and ignores everything Sato says.

Scene 2. The seashore of Ama-no-Hashidate, a few days later. Kagumé and Yasura meet in secret for the first time, with Sato’s reluctant assistance. Yasura is afraid he will be punished if Kagumé’s father discovers they are seeing each other. But he can’t help falling in love with her.

Scene 3. The seashore again. Night-time – and a full moon. Yasura is waiting for Kagumé, when a woman of great beauty emerges from the darkness. It is Otohimé, the fairy queen ruler of the world under the sea. She has heard of Yasura’s reputation, and has come from Ryugou, her underwater palace, to see him. However, she is not allowed to love a human. Yasura is deeply moved and immediately forgets Kagumé.

Scene 4. A mountain path, a few weeks later. Two country-people are talking. One reveals that Yasura is meeting a woman as beautiful as a fairy, every night, but that they disappear in a moment if anyone goes near. The other says that this sounds like Otohimé, who is known for seducing men and robbing them of their soul. She says that Yasura’s good looks will be his downfall. Kagumé is passing by and overhears their conversation. She realises why Yasura has cooled in his behaviour with her and why he casts frequent glances out to sea. She decides to do battle with Otohimé, even if she perishes in the attempt.

Intermezzo. A terrible thunderstorm rages through the night. On the following morning, when the storm has passed, Kagumé’s body is found on the seashore. Everyone weeps at the sight.

Scene 5. The seashore, that evening. Yasura is waiting anxiously for Otohimé. When she appears, she is so exhausted from her fight with Kagumé that she is unable to use her magic. She tells Yasura that it was natural for Kagumé to have hated her, since she had robbed her of Yasura. But she is unable to let go of Yasura. Since it is impossible for their love to be fulfilled in the world of humans, she wants to take him to Ryugou. At that moment, they hear villagers calling Yasura. The voices grow louder and louder. Yasura realises that he has no choice and follows Otohimé into the sea. Later, his body is found on the shore.

Posted 21:55 Thursday, Sep 17, 2015 In: Music & Sound

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