KYOTO – Hirofumi Yoshida, 45, said he could feel Italian opera blending with Japanese spirituality when he conducted two new short works at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto in October.
“I felt that the history of opera, which I believe is a symbol of Western art, and Japanese spirituality symbolized by Kiyomizu Temple, were harmonizing,” said Yoshida, a conductor based in the Italian city of Bologna.
On Oct. 23, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna orchestra performed with opera singers in the main hall of Kiyomizu, instead of on the temple’s famous open stage, Kiyomizu no Butai, because of rain.
“The concert master of the orchestra said to me, ‘The instruments and the main hall seem to be resonating with each other,’ ” Yoshida said. “From the way they played and sang, I could tell that the (Italian) performers felt respect for Japanese culture and I felt very proud.
“That was truly the best stage,” he said of the first opera performance at the temple.
Yoshida, who was born in Hokkaido and grew up in Chiba Prefecture, remembers being impressed by the orchestra conducted by Japanese maestro Seiji Ozawa when he was still in high school.
“At that moment, I decided to become a conductor,” Yoshida said.
Opera grabbed his interest when he was at Tokyo College of Music.
Yoshida then moved to Europe under a training program sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Agency.
“I learned many things and practiced on the spot day after day” while working as an assistant at opera theaters across Europe, Yoshida said.
He has since conducted operas in far-flung locations around the world, including Egypt and Hong Kong, while making Italy his base.
In 2007, he conducted an opera at Terme di Caracalla, the site of an ancient bath complex in Rome, during the summer season of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, becoming the first Japanese conductor to stand on the stage of the theater.
In January 2010, Yoshida became music director at Teatro Sociale di Mantova in Italy, an opera house with a history of 190 years, becoming the first Japanese to take such a post in the country where opera originated.
“I have been blessed with encounters with various people,” he said. “I thus have a mission as a person who can experience the joy of conducting at the world’s top opera house.
“Japan has no world-class operas yet that are performed on a regular basis in famous theaters abroad,” Yoshida said. “I wish to help produce such operas and promote them in the world.”