Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Interviews

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Natalya Romaniw: 'one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’

There can hardly be a dry eye in the house, at the ‘Theatre in the Woods’ at West Horsley Place - Grange Park Opera’s new home - when, in Act 3 of Janáček's first mature opera, Natalya Romaniw’s Jenůfa realises that the tiny child whose frozen body has been discovered under the ice is her own dead son.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

A Chat With Italian Conductor Riccardo Frizza

Riccardo Frizza is a young Italian conductor whose performances in Europe and the United States are getting rave reviews. He tells us of his love for the operas of Verdi, Bellini, and particularly Donizetti.

And London Burned: in conversation with Raphaela Papadakis

Raphaela Papadakis seems to like ‘playing with fire’. After her acclaimed performance as the put-upon maid, Anna, in Independent Opera’s production of Šimon Voseček’s Beidermann and the Arsonists at Sadler’s Wells last year, she is currently rehearsing for the premiere this week of And London Burned, a new opera by Matt Rogers which has been commissioned by Temple Music Foundation to commemorate the 350th anniversary of The Great Fire of London.

Oxford Lieder Festival: in conversation with Julius Drake

In October 2014, the Oxford Lieder Festival - under its imaginative and intrepid founder, Sholto Kynoch - fulfilled an incredibly ambitious goal: to perform Schubert’s entire corpus of songs - more than 600 - and, for three marvellous weeks, to bring Vienna to Oxford. ‘The Schubert Project’ was a magnificent celebration of the life and music of Franz Schubert: at its core lay the first complete performance of Schubert’s songs - including variants and alternative versions - in the UK.

Interview with Star of Florencia en el Amazonas, Elizabeth Caballero

Lyric soprano Elizabeth Caballero’s signature role is Violetta in La traviata, which she portrays with a compelling interpretation, focused sound, and elegant coloratura that floats through the opera house as naturally as waves on the ocean.

A Chat With Baritone Brian Mulligan

Maria Nockin interviews baritone Brian Mulligan.

An interview with Tobias Ringborg

I arrive at the Jerwood Space, where rehearsals are underway for Garsington Opera’s forthcoming production of Idomeneo, to find that the afternoon rehearsal has finished a little early.

A Conversation with Sir Nicholas Jackson

With its merry-go-round exchange of deluded and bewitched lovers, an orphan-turned-princess, a usurped prince, a jewel and a flower with magical properties, a march to the scaffold and a meddling ‘mistress-of-ceremonies’ who encourages the young lovers to disguise and deceive, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring has all the ingredients of an opera buffa.

A Chat With Up-and-Coming Conductor Kathleen Kelly

Kathleen Kelly is an internationally renowned pianist, coach, conductor, and master teacher. She was the first woman and first American named Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera.

Atsuto Sawakami — Sponsor of Italian Opera in Japan

Atsuto Sawakami is a slightly built man in his late sixties with impeccable, gentlemanly manners. He communicates a certain restless energy and his piercingly bright eyes reveal an undimmed appetite for life.

Mark Stone — Oxford Lieder Festival

‘Lieder v. Opera’? At first glance it might seem to be a pointless or nonsensical question.

Oxford Lieder Festival 2015 - Sholto Kynoch interview

Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.

A Chat with Tenor René Barbera

American tenor René Barbera is fast making a name for himself as one of the top bel canto singers in opera houses around the world.

Stefano Mastrangelo — An Italian in Japan

I’m interviewing Stefano Mastrangelo in the immediate aftermath of his conducting La Traviata for the Chofu City Opera in Tokyo on 22 November 2014; he conveys an air at once of tiredness and exhilaration.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Interviews

Atsuto Sawakami
20 Oct 2015

Atsuto Sawakami — Sponsor of Italian Opera in Japan

Atsuto Sawakami is a slightly built man in his late sixties with impeccable, gentlemanly manners. He communicates a certain restless energy and his piercingly bright eyes reveal an undimmed appetite for life.

Atsuto Sawakami — Sponsor of Italian Opera in Japan

An interview by David Chandler

Above: Atsuto Sawakami

 

He is Japan’s most important private sponsor of opera. His Sawakami Opera Foundation bankrolls the Kyoto Opera Festival, which, having started modestly in 2013 – “it was so tiny” he recalls – has now grown to the point where it is about to be renamed the Japan Opera Festival. It reached Tokyo this year and will offer productions in other Japanese cities in the future. The most exciting new development on Japan’s operatic scene for a long time, the Festival’s basic principle is to import large numbers of Italian musicians, to slightly supplement them with local music forces, and to stage Italian operas at locations of outstanding historical and cultural significance. This year two of the four performances of Pagliacci were presented immediately under the keep of Himeji Castle – Japan’s most famous castle and one of its most iconic buildings. I was able to interview Mr. Sawakami for forty-five minutes on September 14, the day after the first performance of the Festival (which took place in the grounds of the Kyoto National Museum). He is clearly a very busy man, but at the same time eager to talk enthusiastically about what his Foundation is doing.

150917_0176.pngCast of Pagliacci under Himeji Castle

Somewhat surprisingly, Sawakami tells me that until about eight years ago he had no special interest in opera; he has always enjoyed listening to Western classical music, but only “a small part” of that was opera. It was the development of his friendship with a promising young Japanese conductor called Hirofumi Yoshida that caused this to change. Yoshida was building a career in Italy, primarily as a conductor of opera, and he invited Sawakami to Europe to experience “true” Italian opera. The latter recalls the conductor at that time with obvious affection, “still fighting to be successful in Italy … living in a very shabby room.” Sawakami greatly admired Yoshida’s determination to make his mark at the international level and was rapidly convinced that Italian opera was one of the world’s great cultural treasures. Soon he was making three or four trips to Italy a year. One day Yoshida approached him with a startling suggestion: why not organize a festival of Italian opera in Japan? Yoshida thought it could be developed, in time, into something like the European opera festivals.

Sawakami’s background is in asset management. “I have forty-five years of experience in global investment,” he tells me, modestly hinting that few of his erstwhile business rivals have managed to survive so long. But his asset management company encourages customers to do something productive with their wealth, and he is particularly keen to encourage cultural initiatives: “a better society means culture.” Thus Yoshida’s proposal received a warm welcome and the Opera Foundation was established. In 2013, two intermezzos by Padre Martini were performed; in 2014, Madama Butterfly. Sawakami and Yoshida clearly work together very well; they never argue, the former tells me. Yoshida makes all the artistic decisions, including choice of opera, director and performers. Sawakami sums up his own principal contribution with a smile: “I say OK. And then I pay.” It gets expensive. This year, most of the Filarmonica del Teatro Comunale of Bologna, five of Pagliacci’s six principals (the exception being Motoharu Takei’s Peppe), fifty-four chorus members and various administrative and support staff, including director Gabriele Marchesini, were flown over from Italy. Their travel and accommodation costs were paid, in addition to their salaries. I suggest that it must be a great holiday for the Italians; Sawakami laughs and says “yes! And a great headache for us!”

I put it to him that it would surely be a lot more cost effective to make greater use of Japanese musicians. Sawakami devotes some time to explaining that the Festival is not interested in saving, or making, money. This is about art – “pure art” he emphasizes. He and Yoshida believe that levels of performance are still higher in Italy: “the top level is the top level … But we’re glad to see the Japanese level coming up.” With most of the singers coming from Italy, the productions can be rehearsed there before being brought to Japan and incorporating the few Japanese performers, the latter being selected through a public audition. On the other hand, Sawakami is very critical of the commercialism that comes into opera when productions are organized around, and promoted on the basis of, star singers. He wants the Festival operas to be appreciated as unified, artistic wholes, the best of Italian art enjoyed with a corresponding appreciation of Japan’s own cultural heritage.

For the audience, top price seats are expensive, though certainly not excessively so by American or European standards. In any case, there are always lower-priced seats and, on the day, standing places available for just ¥1,000, or about $8 – “ridiculously cheap” Sawakami says with pride. Ticketholders get invited to some free events as well, including chamber music recitals. With just four paying performances in this year’s Festival (there are plans for more in future Festivals), it is impossible not to conclude that the whole project relies very much on his philanthropy. And as Sawakami talks about the future, it is clear he is less interested in attracting the sort of older, moneyed people who have traditionally supported opera in Japan than he is in appealing to young people and children; he wants to “broaden the base” of opera in his country and he knows it has to be affordable for that to happen.

Sawakami is personally very involved in the Festival. He does not just pay the bills. I suggest that after all this exposure to opera, and opera people, he must have a favorite opera, or opera composer. He laughingly says no, explaining with a level of modesty rare even in Japan that he is “still fairly amateur in terms of opera … I’m learning now.” His Festival is perhaps above all an invitation for others to learn too.

David Chandler

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):