My Way of Life

Tōru Takemitsu My Way of Life opera (better described perhaps as a staged concert spectacular). Directed 2005 by Peter Mussbach at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Main Hall and also staged at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin and at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.) Stars Dwayne Croft, Christine Oesterlein, Georgette Dee, Mélanie Fouché, Karen Rettinghaus, Kifu Mitsuhashi, Yukio Tanaka, Yasunori Yamaguchi, and Daisuke Suzuki. Kent Nagano conducts the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Tokyo Opera Singers. Set design by Erich Wonder; costumes by Eiko Ishioka; lighting by Alexander Koppelmann. This is a 2 disc set. Disc 1 is the HDVD recording of the opera. It has 5.1 PCM (48kHz/16 bit) and 5.1 Dolby Digital (48kHz/16 bit) surround sound. Disc 2 is an extremely valuable documentary about Takemitsu's life and the making of the high-definition recording of the opera. This was published in 2010, primarily for the Japanese market. But the disc menus and the box booklet have enough English text for an English-speaking person to navigate and enjoy the production. Oddly, when the characters sing or speak in Japanese or French, there are English subtitles. But when they use English, it's assumed that the English speaking viewer can understand and the subtitles are in Japanese only. But understanding the English being sung in such a strange setting as this is quite difficult, and I felt a bit frustrated about that. If the viewer commands neither Japanese nor English, this production will most likely remain a closed book. Manufactured in Japan, this title is now (March 2011) extremely expensive to buy in U.S. dollars. Grade: B+

I used to be a movie buff. I went through a "Japanese film" period, and my very favorite Nippon films were Harakiri, Ran, and Dohes'ka-den. When I first read about the Takemitsu My Way of Life opera, the name sounded vaguely familiar. Sure enough, Takemitsu wrote the soundtracks for all these films and maybe 100 more. But film music was only one aspect of Takemitsu's output: he was an internationally recognized leader in the avant-guard and esoteric field of "found sound" music. A self-taught genius, everything he wrote was in the vocabulary of sounds he found in his head, in nature, in instruments he invented, as the product of distortion and editing of musical tapes, and in everyday life. His output extended to western-style music (starting points Debussy, Messiaen, and Cage), eastern music and percussion works, and East-West fusion in a variety of serious and popular forms. A universal intellect, he was interested in graphics, painting, sculpture, film, costumes, and the like; he was also known in Japan as a celebrity chef! He was the first Japanese composer to attain fame in the West.

Takemitsu expressed interest in attempting a western-style opera, but his life was cut short at age 66 before he could start. My Way of Life is a review of 11 of his most popular works that was put together by his admirers after he died. (One of these works was titled "My Way of Life.") Because his life was so closely related to visual as well as aural arts, his followers wanted to link the presentation of the 11 titles to some kind of stage production that would illustrate Takemitsu's personality and outlook. I do not know who actually determined the "story line" and selected the images to be used on the stage. My best guess is that some aspects of the production can be directly linked to Takemitsu's life and work, and that some aspects are fantasies deemed appropriate by those who knew him. Here's my stab at the story: an ancient hag looks back on her life as a girl, then as an actress, and finally as an old woman; along the way, lots of weird stuff happens.

If you want to tackle this title, I suggest you first watch it semi-cold with the advantage of the reading the material in this mini-review. Then watch the DVD documentary, which probably will help you tremendously to get ready for your first real viewing of the piece. (I watched this absolutely cold, and I found the first viewing quite tedious.) Among the many bizarre things about this production is the fact that the taking of bows by the performers at the end is maybe the most interesting chapter on the HDVD---but I'll not spoil things by telling you why.

I feel now that this production does a good job of celebrating Takemitsu's music and introducing the newbie to it. I feel now that I have been thoroughly introduced to the life and word of this interesting composer. I doubt, however, that the "opera" aspects of this will be much staged in the future---if ever again. It could turn out that this HDVD will be the world's best memorial to Tōru Takemitsu. So for those interested in avant-guard music, buying this title could turn out to be something they "must do." I give it a B+. Here's a link to help you find a vendor for this: