I have just read of this opera
based upon Lady Murasaki Shikibu
's Heian era
novel The Tale of Genji
. I have not seen it in performance nor have I any opinion of it. But the program notes posted on the Web provide a synopsis
of the main events of the novel and so I thought it might be of interest.
Minoru Miki's new opera The Tale of Genji will receive its world premiere on June 15th, performed by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Staging is by Colin Graham who also wrote the English text. This is Miki and Graham's third major collaboration following An Actor's Revenge (London 1979, and St Louis 1981) and Joruri (St Louis 1985, and Tokyo 1988).
The Tale of Genji is Minoru Miki's seventh opera, part of an extended series of musical and dramatic works written by in a kaleidoscopic variety of styles, during the past quarter of a century. He has also composed three folk operas.
Scene 1 : The Old Emperor - the Paulownia Court
During a court festivity the OLD EMPEROR introduces the characters of the story, among them his favorite son, Prince GENJI, known from his childhood as "the Shining One", and the women in Genji's life: FUJITSUBO (The Emperor's favorite wife), the Lady ROKUJO (Genji's first affaire-du-coeur) and AOI, who has been his wife since they were joined as children in an official and loveless marriage.
Since his mother was an "unofficial wife" of the Emperor, Genji cannot succeed to the throne, much as his father would like it. He becomes notorious for his many affairs with women in each of whom he is driven to find the image of his late mother. His son by Fujitsubo (the woman who most resembles his mother and for whom he deserted the bitterly jealous Rokujo) has been accepted by the apparently ignorant Emperor as his own child. Genji's chief opponent at court is KOKIDEN, official wife of the Emperor whose son, SUZAKU, will succeed to the throne on the retirement of his venerable father.
Scene 2 - Fujitsubo and Rokujo
Genji visits both Fujitsubo, with whom he is passionately in love and who is carrying his child, and Rokujo, his first love whom he deserted for Fujitsubo. Both women spurn his advances and berate him for the philandering that brings other so much unhappiness. "The fate of woman is inconstant man."
Scene 3 - Genji and To-no-Chujo
Scene 4 - Murasaki
On one of his nocturnal rambles with TO-NO-CHUJO, his brother-in-law, Genji finds a young girl, MURASAKI, living in a tumble-down house in the middle of the forest with her foster-mother, the nun SHONAGON. Genji is entranced by the fact that Murasaki so closely resembles both his late mother and Fujitsubo and promises Shonagon that Murasaki will be cared for after Shonagon's death.
Scene 5 - The Warning Dream
Genji's conflicting emotions begin to tell on him and he is warned about the possible results of the pain he causes others.
Scene 6 - The Autumn Festival
At the Autumn Festival, the Emperor asks Genji and To-no-Chujo to dance for him and then announces his retirement in favor of the Crown Prince, Suzaku. Another scandal is caused when Genji secretly introduces Murasaki into his household under the nose of Aoi, his estranged but loving wife.
Fujitsubo's baby is growing to be more and more like his real father, Genji, who refuses to understand why Fujitsubo keeps him so coldly away from her. In her shame, she insists that both herself and her child, as well as Rokujo and Aoi, are victims of Genji's selfish obsession. She also taunts him with his "unsuitable" attraction to Murasaki and is not interested in his protestations that it is because of their remarkable resemblance to each other.
Scene 7 - The death of Aoi
Genji is summoned to the bedside of Aoi who has fallen ill, weakened from childbirth and distraught by her unrequited love for her husband. She is driven to her death by the vengeful spirit of Rokujo and Genji is unable to prevent it.
Scene 8 - Rokujo and Genji
When he later reproaches her, the unwitting Rokujo is horrified to realize that her dream spirit has been responsible for Aoi's death and she resolves to go into a convent, although not without first laying a curse on Genji: if he is unfaithful to the woman he eventually marries, Rokujo's spirit will return to destroy them both.
Scene 9 and 10 - Banishment and Farewells
In spite of the scandal Genji marries Murasaki. Kokiden uses this, and his infidelity to Rokujo, who has inexplicably disappeared, to insist that her son Suzaku, now the Emperor, banish Genji from court. Fujitsubo reluctantly promises she will protect Murasaki from the court during Genji's absence.
Scene 11 - Exile on Suma, and the Storm
Exiled to the distant and lonely shore of Suma, Genji and Murasaki can only sustain their love through letters. In a violent storm Genji appeals to the Gods and receives a vision of his father, the Old Emperor, who commands him to set sail immediately. The tempest wrecks the boat and Genji is rescued by an Old Recluse on the island of Akashi.
Scene 12, 13, 14 - The Island of Akashi / The Emperor's chambers
Separated for so long from Murasaki and in spite of himself, Genji seduces the Old Recluse's beautiful daughter who bears a strong resemblance to the Lady Rokujo.
(Scene 13) Meanwhile the Emperor Suzaku interprets the endless storms that rage on Edo as signs of the gods' displeasure at Genji's banishment. After many months of indecision he overrides Kokiden's objections and recalls Genji to the court to act as Regent to Fujitsubo's son in whose favor he will now abdicate.
(Scene 14) Although Genji now has a daughter by the lady of Akashi, and in spite of the lady's grief, he decides to return alone to Edo - and to Murasaki.
Scene 15 - Death and Farewell
The spirit of Rokujo now exacts the promised revenge by destroying the lives of the two women he most loves, Fujitsubo and Murasaki.
(Scene 16) On the eve of his glorious elevation to the Regency Genji sees his whole life pass before him and realizes it has been his own selfish desires that have caused others so much unhappiness. Burdened by his grief he takes his place in glory by the side of his son, the new Emperor.