'Only the Sound Remains' receives its Spanish Premiere at Teatro Real
10th October 2018
Originally commissioned by the Dutch National Opera, Paris Opera, Canadian Opera Company, National Opera of Finland and Teatro Real de Madrid in 2015, the opera brings together two Japanese Nôh theatre plays, ‘Always Strong’ and ‘Feather Mantle’ – both translated into English by Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa.
Always Strong [Tsunemasa]
In Always Strong, a young lute player named Tsunemasa returns as a spirit to the court following his death under violent circumstances. When alive, his playing on the Biwa lute was erotic and heavenly but he cannot find happiness again. The monk Gyōkei contacts the spirit and offers the Biwa lute before the altar of the deceased and performs a service with music. Tsunemasa’s spirit touches the lute briefly before disappearing slowly.
Feather Mantle [Hagoromo]
In Feather Mantle, a fisherman named Hakuryō goes fishing with his companions and finds a beautiful robe hung on a pine branch. When he attempts to take it home as a family heirloom, a celestial maiden appears and asks him to return the robe to her. At first, Hakuryō refuses to return it. However, he is moved by the celestial maiden who laments that she cannot go home to heaven without it. The fisherman argues with her and finally promises to return it if she will show to him her dance or at least part of it. She accepts his offer and eventually disappears in the haze, beyond the peak of Mount Fuji – only the sound remains.
Japanese Nôh theatre was born from the Buddhist idea that light is hidden in darkness so as not to blind mere mortals. Saariaho releases this hidden light through her music of shimmering spectral orchestration.
Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)
Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. Born in Helsinki in 1952, she studied at the Sibelius Academy there with the pioneering modernist Paavo Heininen and, with Magnus Lindberg and others, she founded the progressive ‘Ears Open’ group. She continued her studies in Freiburg with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, at the Darmstadt summer courses, and, from 1982, at the IRCAM research institute in Paris – the city which has been most of the time her home ever since.
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