The seeds of YOSHINAKA are rooted in a cross-cultural collaboration between the Noh theatre master Munenori Takeda and US composer Garrett Fisher. Ideas traveled across oceans, flickered on computer screens and survived various translations to make their to the premiere at Seattle’s ACT Theatre (2014). The opera recounts the long-lived tales of the Yoshinaka Temple where the hero and heroine, Yoshinaka and Tomoe Gozen, are buried, joined later by the renowned 17th century Haiku poet Matsuo Basho. The story of unrequited love tells of these restless spirits as they seek to be reunited in the afterlife.
Fisher and Takeda first met in Seattle in 2013. Fisher, whose work is inspired by the Noh tradition (including KOCHO, produced by Beth Morrison Projects), and Takeda, who has performed Noh since the age of two, found common ground in their passion for bringing the beauty of the Noh tradition to contemporary audiences in ways that challenged and reinvented forms. With the help of translators, the idea to create a contemporary opera based on the Noh opera TOMOE was born.
There are three gravestones for Tomoe, Yoshinaka, and Basho at the Gichuji temple. After Tomoe’s last battle with her master, Yoshinaka, she was forced to leave his side. Many years later, Basho, who also respected Yoshinaka, asked to be buried there as well. Both Fisher and Takeda found this setting and narrative compelling: for Takeda, the story, based on the TALES OF HEIKE, represents one of the most important epic tales of the Japanese literature; Fisher marveled at how the tale’s themes, with its emphasis on the issues of gender inequality, resonated with our culture today. Both saw the inclusion of the popular poet Basho as the perfect portal through which to draw in Western audiences who might not be familiar with the original history.
Fisher integrated Takeda’s performance in ways that highlighted similarities and differences between Noh and Western traditions. He cast the Noh master as the Goddess to explore intersections between Noh’s tradition of having men play female roles and the West’s contemporary interest in gender issues. By casting Takeda as a Goddess and the Western singers as humans, Fisher aimed to create distinct performative “planes,” allowing the audience to draw distinctions and parallels between the different traditions and aesthetics. In all, Fisher and Takeda hope to bridge continents and cultures as a way to preserve and reinvent operatic forms and traditions.