Five Questions: Jeremy Huw Williams (role of Hiroshige)

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Jeremy Huw Williams as Hiroshige in rehearsal (June 2014)

1. What first attracted you to the idea of the Tokaido Road project?

I have always admired the lyrical music of the composer Nicola LeFanu, in particular her operatic works, having created the role of Domenico in her seventh opera, Dream Hunter. It has been a great honour for me to create the central role of Hiroshige in her latest opera, Tokaido Road, and the musical and theatrical experiences have been most rewarding. In much the same way as I was drawn to portray the role of Chou En-lai in John Adams’s opera, Nixon in China, I was immediately fascinated by the character of Hiroshige, a whistle-blower who evaded the Japanese censors by using beauty to reveal a reality that was not always pleasant. I have always loved the colour blue and could readily translate Hiroshige’s woodblock prints into a series of emotional blues in my mind that I could bring to life on the operatic stage.

2. Tell us about your involvement in Tokaido Road

I began discussing the project with the composer Nicola LeFanu in April 2012 and subsequently had discussions with the producer Kate Romano in September 2012. The more I read about Hiroshige the more I empathised with the man and his great artistic achievement and the difficult choices that he had to make along the road. My role combines the artist as a young man and an old man looking back on his life until his demise, a multi-dimensional role for any actor and an interesting challenge, physically and vocally. I was delighted to receive the score in March 2014 in preparation for the rehearsal period in June 2014 and the world premiere at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2014. We shall be touring the opera until October 2015.

3. What excites you about contemporary arts?

I have always had an interest in contemporary arts of all kinds. My PhD is in the analysis of contemporary vocal music. I have collected contemporary visual art for many years and am a regular auctioneer for several charities. I am on the board of the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture, Ty Cerdd (incorporating the Welsh Music Information Centre), Welsh Music Guild, Music in Hospitals Cymru/Wales and Welsh Chamber Orchestra. I was a National Advisor to the Arts Council of Wales for ten years, and a board member of National Dance Company Wales (a major contemporary dance company), Walton Trust, La Mortella Trust and Incorporated Society of Musicians. During the past twenty years I have commissioned more than fifty musical compositions. Working with creators of any kind is a thrill for me. I have never created anything myself. I consider it an honour and a duty to serve the composer, poet and librettist.

4. What has the project taught you / shown you / made you aware of?

The opera invokes a special time and place through a beautiful combination of eastern and western instruments, coupled with western operatic singing, a fusion of cuisine for the eye and the ear. The projected images of Japan from the 1830s and the beautiful direction and design of the opera leave a lasting impression on both performers and audience alike. I am currently working in China, and am aware of the antecedents of many of these instruments and their music in the musical traditions of this great country. The concept of the alter ego is one that works beautifully in the opera, especially as we have such a talented Japanese actor in the cast who moves with such poise and grace.

5. What relevance, for you, does the project have to today’s cultural environment?

This opera, which combines western and eastern performers, collaborators and musical instruments, as well as compositional styles, is a reflection of the increasing diversity in the culture of the United Kingdom, and many other parts of the world today. We live in a cosmopolitan society, and the arts can play a very large role in the homogenisation of our people, languages and traditions as we strive for mutual understanding and enrichment.

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