Thursday, May 22, 2008

Renaissance Research "Conservatory Project" Assignment On Contemporary Opera Composition

"Renaissance Research Conservatory Project" Assignment:

Below are two excerpts from Sharon Percy Rockefeller's WETA Television website. How would you go about fashioning this material into a synopsis and libretto to a new opera?

"In the early 16th century, Japan is a warlike society ruled by samurai and their daimyo warlords. When Portuguese merchants arrive in 1543, they are the first Europeans to set foot in Japan. Missionaries quickly set out to convert the nation to Christianity. In the same year, a samurai boy named Tokugawa Ieyasu is born to a low-ranking daimyo family. To prove his family's loyalty to their ruling warlord, Ieyasu is given as a hostage, and he remains so for most of his childhood. When he is finally freed, Ieyasu reclaims his family's domain and allies himself with the most powerful rulers in Japan: Oda Nobunaga, and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Awarding him a small fishing village named Edo, later to be known as Tokyo, Hideyoshi provides Ieyasu with a vast area to rule. But the two are uneasy allies. At his deathbed, Hideyoshi places Ieyasu in command until his true heir and son Hideyori is able to rule. When daimyo rebels challenge his control, Tokugawa Ieyasu's armies defeat them at the Battle of Sekigahara. The victory brings to Ieyasu the title of Shogun. Hideyori is now Ieyasu's only obstacle to total control of Japan. In 1614, Ieyasu renounces his allegiance to Hideyori and attacks Osaka Castle, slaughtering more than 100,000…"


"With Ieyasu in control, peace descends on Japan, and a new society based on the samurai ethics of obedience and loyalty is established. In 1600, William Adams becomes the first Englishman to set foot in Japan. Impressed by European trading vessels, Ieyasu asks Adams to help him build his own fleet. Aware that the English have no interest in converting the Japanese to Christianity, Ieyasu decides to expel the Portuguese and Spanish, who too often combine missionary work with trade. When he dies at 72, Ieyasu's vision of a strictly controlled class system based on the rule of the samurai is a reality. But his grandson, Iemitsu, will rule more harshly. With no wars to fight, Iemitsu tightens control over the power and movement of the daimyo and their restless samurai armies. Though foreign missionaries have been expelled, Iemitsu still fears the influence of Christianity. In 1637, impoverished peasants and persecuted Christians explode in anger in the Shimabara Rebellion, and thousands die. In order to prevent further dissention resulting from foreign influence, Iemitsu closes Japan to the western world. …"

Two scenes from Kagemusha (影武者). Kagemusha is a 1980 film by Akira Kurosawa with music by Shinichirô Ikebe . The title (which means "Shadow Warrior" in Japanese) is a term used for an impersonator. It is set in the Warring States era of Japanese history and tells the story of a lower-class criminal who is taught to impersonate a dying warlord in order to dissuade opposing lords from attacking the newly vulnerable clan. The warlord whom the kagemusha impersonates is based on daimyo Takeda Shingen and the climactic 1575 Battle of Nagashino.

Photos and caption credit: Wikipedia. With thanks. Header image is of General launching his troops to attack the castle of Nagashino in 1575, and is by Yoshitoshi.


Blogger JW said...

Something like this story has been done: Saegusa Shigeaki's Chushingura. It's popularly known as The 47 Ronin and is best described as the Japanese "Gone With The Wind", and epic tale of sacrifice and honor on a large scale. It's worth checking out. Definitely see the movie (I think the 2nd version), about 3+ hours long and a moving experience.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks jw.

I do, in fact, know and own Saegusa Shigeaki's Chushingura, and have viewed it three or four times (once with my father, I recall).

I found the music rather too conservative for my tastes, though I, generally, admired the effort.

The two extracts that I refer to actually contain episodes of early meetings of Japanese and Portuguese and English figures -- religious and secular; and they could be, I believe, treated in an epic fashion differently than the earlier Japanese epic that you cite.

7:07 AM  

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