In the last couple of weeks Marty and I have been to see two stage productions: The Lion King at the Shiki Haru Theatre; and a performance of Carmen given by the Leningrad State Opera at the Orchard Hall.
The Lion King was amazing and since I know the story so well having this performed in Japanese didn’t really bother me (and since I really like opera which is rarely in English the concept isn’t that new to me). I have seen this musical in London but was horrified to work out that it has been around 8 years since I saw that performance. I still expect people to dress up for a musical like this and I think it might be the first time in ages that I have braved multiple train stations in high heels. When we got there I was really surprised by how the Japanese were dressed. The performance was quite early in the evening and nearly everyone was dressed casually or in their work clothes. It felt more like going to the cinema as before the performance people sat outside the theatre and ate bento and drank tea. We didn’t need to queue up in the same way I’ve done in London or New York as the entrance to the theatre was more like a cinema entrance with lots of places to sit around and relax before the performance began.
I went to see Carmen after sitting the JLPT last Sunday. This wasn’t an ideal time to see anything but Marty had gotten the tickets on short notice from someone in his office who could no longer go. I was wearing comfortable clothes as I didn’t want to sit an exam in a dress. We weren’t sure where the Orchard Hall was in Shibuya but when we got nearer to the venue I told Marty to just follow the women in formal wear and furs. He did say they could be going anywhere but really where else would you be going dressed like that on a Sunday afternoon? I was right and this time the Japanese were really dressed up. The clothes were amazing though I did see far too many dead animals draped around shoulders. I love the Japanese style formal wear but the taffeta dresses and black tie looked good too.
The Japanese are crazy about opera. Tickets for this event had sold out more than eight months ago. I have seen Carmen performed before but this was certainly the most expensive performance I have seen. They had a large chorus, full orchestra, a dance troupe and, a very expensive set. It was fun seeing the lead role played by two different woman – Carmen the dancer and Carmen the singer. The dancer, as would be expected, was slim and flexible and no one was going to believe, no matter what stage tricks they tried to pull, that the singer was the same woman. But it still worked and in Opera you always need to suspend belief when watching as the dark sexy hero is usually short, ugly and fat. We have been spoiled by Hollywood films where how a person looks is often more important then whether they have talent. In Opera the key thing is being able to sing.
I wasn’t sure that I liked the voice of the lead singer. She managed to both swallow and project her sound all at the same time which was rather strange. When she didn’t pull the sounds back into her throat she had the most beautiful alto sound but at other times she just sounded strange. The lead soprano on the other hand was utterly amazing and practically brought the audience to their feet at the end of each aria (and yes the Japanese yell “brava” which does sound rather strange not that I ever think it sounds normal). The Opera also didn’t start well as one of the lead males was flat in the first act and there seemed to be problem with all the singers keeping in time with the orchestra. This improved though with every act and by the fourth act the performance was brilliant. I also think we were watching the opening performance so it isn’t surprising that they had some problems with the sound set-up initially.
Marty had lots of fun reading the Japanese sub-titles. I was tired after the exam and didn’t bother to do that or even try to translate the French. Mind you the French pronunciation was quite strange and it took me much too long to realise that they were singing in French even though I knew that it was written in French.