Innovative Noh Chamber Opera Comes to Vancouver’s Cultch

Featured image of model Noriko Cool by Trevan Wong

One of the most exciting parts of living in and visiting Vancouver is witnessing the incredibly rich East/West cultural collaborations that occur in the city.

This season, The Cultch will host the world premiere of a ground-breaking and emotionally charged noh chamber opera, presented by TomoeArts.

From October 26-28, 2017, at The Cultch (1895 Venables Street), Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited will showcase to audiences a tale of love and woe in an inventive blending of noh and Western classical music.

For those unfamiliar with Noh, this ancient theatre genre, originating from the Japanese Muromachi Period (1333-1573), is characterized by minimalist staging, usually involving just two performers who are supported by background singers and musicians on flute and drum. Movements have a deliberate stylized quality, paired with chant and intense lyrics that explore the supernatural and legendary. The longevity of noh attests to this theatre genre’s enduring visual and emotional impact on those who are fortunate enough to watch a performance.

Image of Yamai Tsunao submitted by TomoeArts

Noh, steeped in such rich history, is being given a contemporary and hybrid reboot in this Vancouver production. Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited is based on an old tale from one of five noh plays about Ono-no-Komachi, a famed ninth century poet. In it, she must face the ghost of man who she spurned and who demands vengeance.

This production takes the spirit of this traditional narrative, translating it into a modern context in which a man and woman must confront the intense, yet toxic dynamic between them.

Above all, Kayoi Komachi/Komachi Visited is a celebration of the aching beauty of music, words, and the fraught ravages of love. It will weave together text from the original noh play, as well as poetry from Komachi herself, along with the music of Western classical musicians.

This creative noh chamber opera is the product of a collaboration between composer Farshid Samandari and director/writer Colleen Lanki. Their synergies have resulted in a much more fragmented, fluid reimagining of noh, with rhythm that deviates from the conventional eight-beat phrase structure of classic noh.

This hybrid performance features a switching back and forth between Japanese and English language, sung by Japan’s Yamai Tsunao (playing Fukakusa) and Vancouver soprano Heather Pawsey.

Heather Pawsey; Photo Credit: Darren Hull

Other members of the singing ensemble include Melanie Adams (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Bulman (tenor), Peter Monaghan (bass-baritone), and noh actors Muraoka Kiyomi and Mayuko Kashiwazaki (members of the prestigious Komparu School).

The live orchestra orchestra is conducted by Jonathan Girard and includes Mark McGregor on flute, Western percussionist Brian Nesselroad, Omura Kayû (noh shoulder drum), as well as a group of string players.

Image of Domagoj Ivanovic (violin) submitted by TomoeArts

Further information and tickets can be found on-line.

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