Matsumushi
a monoopera in five scenes

Daryl Jamieson
Composition Date: 2014
Duration: 00:45:00
Genre: Staged Vocal Works, Operas, Complete Vocal Score

Instrumentation:

Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 1 x English horn
  • 1 x Piano
  • 1 x Soprano
  • 1 x Violoncello
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Programme Note:
The celebration of the beauty of the ephemeral, while rare in western art, is perhaps the predominant characteristic of Japanese art. Matsumushi, the noh play on which my opera is based, is about the letting go (or not) of the beloved dead: the old man has suffered for decades, unable to forget his long-dead lover, while the ghost of the lover is locked in limbo, unable to proceed to either rebirth or the pure land. The intervention of the barkeeper gives peace to both, allowing the old man to accept the inevitably of death, and the ghost to be released. The pine crickets (matsumushi) of the title are the catalysts of the story, and, like most insects, their lives are short. For this, as well as their beautiful, ringing call, they are revered in Japan as harbingers of autumn almost as much as the cherry blossoms are of spring. I kept five of them in a terrarium so I could enjoy listening to them while I composed the opera. The high C# that my crickets consistently sang thus became a key note in the opera. I chose Matsumushi as the subject of my monoopera for a few reasons. One of which was the scope for a contemporary Zen-inspired interpretation of the material, wherein the diffuse temporal elements of past and future coalesce into the single instantaneous now. The way the barkeeper experiences time in the opera – past, present, and future simultaneously – comes from that idea. The five scenes are structured around the five Buddhist elements – the first four the same as the Ancient Grecian ones, but with a fifth – emptiness, or śūnyatā in Sanskrit – serving as the ground of the other four, the very opposite of Platonic ideal forms. The influence of the five elements are evident not only in the text of the scenes, but also affect the music, helping to give each scene an individual musical flavour. Emptiness, as mentioned above, has a positive connotation in Eastern thought but is wholly negative in the West; it is literally negative in that it is conceived of only as an absence or lack. I wanted to write a work in English which explored this positive, beautiful side of negation. But there is another concept, that of the wilderness, which I also wanted to highlight. This cultural difference goes the opposite way, in that wildness is not perceived nearly as positively in Japan as it is in Europe. The wild, as a concept, and as a destination, is a relatively recent idea, but it has taken hold of the European imagination, which cannot now conceive of mountains or moorlands as anything but beautiful and majestic natural embodiments of sublimity. At the heart of Matsumushi is the story of a teenager who dies on a moor, killed, in a way, by his attraction to nature. In explaining my concept in Japanese, I have run into the difficulty that the word 'moor' – suggestive of leisurely rambling through sun-drenched wilderness and rural pubs set in colourful scrubland – cannot be translated in a way that doesn't suggest something negative or frightening, along the lines of 'wasteland'. So in emphasising the beauty of the land, and the beauty of negation, while accepting the fear that stems from our inability to control either, I wanted to challenge both European and Japanese audiences to examine their respective cultural prejudices. Another cultural prejudice – this time resulting from the interaction of Christian culture and 19th century Japan – resulted in the relative obscurity of the noh play Matsumushi. As one of about ten noh plays based around a same-sex love story, though it has not been erased from modern (post-1868) performance, it has been relegated to an obscure part of the repertory. Homosexual behaviour was arguably more socially acceptable in pre-modern Japan than it is today. I think it is important to be aware of the deep history of non-heterosexual romantic narratives in cultures around the world. Based on my understanding of Buddhist-derived philosophy, but in English and for western classical instruments, my aim in writing and producing my version of Matsumushi is to advance an intercultural musical, dramatic, socio-political, and spiritual dialogue – but above all to create an intriguing and engaging evening of musical theatre.

Premiere Information:
20 November 2014, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Tokyo, Japan.
Presented by Atelier Jaku. Masumi Yoshikawa, soprano; Yu Koresawa, cor anglais and oboe; Seiko Takemoto, violoncello; Kaori Ohsuga, piano

CATALOGUE INFO:

  • Call Number:
  • MV 7110 J321mat
  • Genre:
  • Staged Vocal Works, Operas, Complete Vocal Score
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • June 17, 2015
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score (63 p.);
    63 Pages
    Height: 30 cm
    Width: 23 cm
    Parts page count: 34
  • Language Information
  • Main language: English
  • Additional Information:
  • Five scenes:
    Scene I. World/Square – through the holloway
    Scene II. Water/Sphere – on the moor
    Scene III. Fire/Triangle – the lovers' tale
    Scene IV. Wind/Crescent – the ghost appears
    Scene V. Śūnyatā/Lotus – the blessing
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