‘Staged at the Parabola Arts Centre, the first performance of Nicola LeFanu’s new music-theatre piece Tokaido Road was a festival highlight. Librettist Nancy Gaffield provided a text based on her own collection of poems. Incorporating narration, song and mime, the exquisite results were based on the life of the Japanese landscape artist Hiroshige’s woodblock print series 53 Stations of the Tokaido, and images of these pictures were screened above the live performance, adding another layer to the experience.
The principal protagonist is Hiroshige himself (baritone Jeremy Huw Williams), who appears as a young man, Hiro, making an epic journey and also as an old man recalling the trek. The women he encounters are Kikuyo, an apprentice geisha (soprano Raphaela Papadakis) and Mariko, a teahouse mistress (mezzo Caryl Hughes) and his memory is embodied by a mime artist (Tomoko Komura). At the end, the mime leaves as the old Hiroshige sings his own epitaph.
Written for the ensemble Okeanos, the instrumental accompaniment consisted of oboe/cor anglais, clarinet/bass clarinet, viola and cello, together with sho (Japanese mouth organ) and plucked koto. These forces, effectively blending western and Japanese instruments, were used sparingly, always adding point and colour, and sensitively conducted by Dominic Wheeler. The staging was meticulous and atmospheric, with director Caroline Clegg keeping the narrative flowing and allowing space for every character to communicate meaningfully. Tomoko Komura’s mime, combining grace and energy, was a particular delight. Tokaido Road was a true collaboration of several talents and a particular triumph for Nicola LeFanu, whose wisdom and experience illuminated this, her ninth score for the stage.’
Paul Conway – Musical Opinion