Much excitement in Tokaido Road Towers as we reach the final milestone; a week to go until we premiere at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Yesterday, a few of us gathered to watch the dress rehearsal, the final event before we pack up and prepare to head to Cheltenham a week today. Both composer and librettist were present, looking excited, and as the lights dimmed, the figure of an elderly Hiroshige gazed out at us, whilst on-stage the members of Okeanos Ensemble were already seated, ready to play.
I’m not going to give much away about what unfolded next – you’ll just have to find out for yourself at next week’s premiere! – but the next fifty minutes offered a truly enchanting realisation of Nancy’s poems; it’s as if the libretto stretches the original poems out, affording the opportunity to delve deeper beneath the surface and explore a greater narrative nuance.
There are some memorable moments as you follow the young Hiro along the Tokaido Road, some wonderfully exotic soundscapes that Nicola LeFanu has distilled from the multi-instrument-juggling chamber ensemble, enhanced by several unusual instruments (keep an eye out for a particularly macabre percussion instrument that appears later in the piece!).
As the piece ended and the lights faded, there was a sense that we’d been taken to an emotional space that was quite something, in a meeting of Eastern and Western cultures that afforded a small glimpse into various points along Hiroshige’s journey along the Tokaido Road; each of us being led on our own, personal odyssey, writ large across the stage. The combination of Nicola’s shimmering soundworld and Nancy’s hypnotic words opens up an extraordinary landscape for the listener, mapping Hiro’s own travels but opening them out into something much more universal, a potent humanity that speaks to each of us across the years since the original prints captured these fragile instances in the Japanese countryside.
Now the production goes into especially-marked flight-cases, ready to embark on its own road to Cheltenham on Sunday 6 July, and various venues thereafter. Join us along The Road, and prepare for a mesmerising experience…