Music | BLAZING AUTUMN PEOPLE'S CONCERT

Singers enchant audience with opera, folk songs

Japanese baritone Haruhisa Handa, also the chairman of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC), invited fellow opera singers to the New National Theatre, Tokyo, on Monday to entertain an audience of about 900.

Conal Coad, a bass from New Zealand, Hiroko Onuki, a Japanese soprano and John Longmuir, a Scottish tenor joined the one-night performance to sing songs from the well-known operas, “The Marriage of Figaro,” “The Elixir of Love,” “Le Boheme” and “Nabucco.” The four singers also performed the songs of “Carmina Burana.”

The performance was part of the “Blazing Autumn People’s Concert,” a free concert program, held by the Tokyo Art Foundation (TAF) in cooperation with IFAC, and was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as well as by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Some 1,000 audience were selected by lottery from about 5,800 applicants. In addition, the program was also distributed for free on Ustream, viewed by 7,947.

The singers were backed by TAF’s 20-year-old amateur chorus group, the Alps choir; the Little Singers of Tokyo, which is a coed children’s choir group founded in 1951 and a member of Pueri Cantores. The singers were accompanied by an original orchestra set up specifically for the day’s concert and comprised of members recruited from Japan’s top orchestras. The purpose of the program is to give people an opportunity to enjoy well-known songs, not only of operas but also of Japanese nursery songs and folk songs.

At the beginning of the program, Handa, who also goes by Toshu Fukami, surprised the audience by singing Japan’s national anthem, “Kimigayo.”

Following his solo, the Alps choir appeared on the stage — in somewhat comical attire, attired in blue, knee-length aprons emblazoned with a large red circle on white — representing the Japanese flag.

The choir started with “Hamabe no Uta” and “Akatombo,” two very popular Japanese nursery songs, followed by “Soran Bushi,” a well-known Hokkaido folk song, usually sung by herring fishermen and fish processors.

The choir also sang Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” from his Piano Sonata No. 11, or better known as the “Turkish March,” in scat. The members received rousing applause from the audience when, to punctuate their performance, they shouted together and thrust their fists high in the air.

After the choir performance, Handa and Onuki took turns singing a pair of opera songs. The two sang “Tutto e tranquillo e placid” and “Pace, pace, mio dolce Tesoro,” from Act IV of “The Marriage of Figaro.” Halfway through the performance, Coad discretely walked onto the stage to join them.

Coad, who has performed in major opera houses around the world, including the U.K.’s Royal Opera House and Germany’s Hamburg State Opera House, had the theater rumbling with “Udite, udite, o rustici” from Act I of “The Elixir of Love.”

Longmuir, a member of the Sydney-based national opera company, Opera Australia, performed “Una furtive lagrima” from Act II of “The Elixir of Love,” demonstrating his tenor talent as a winner of many of Australia’s major prestigious opera awards such as the Herald Sun Aria and the inaugural Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award.

Next, Onuki mesmerized the audience with her clear soprano voice in a joint performance with Coad of “Quanto amore!” from Act II of “The Elixir of Love.” Coad drew audience laughter with his comical mimicking of a chicken.

The three guest singers then demonstrated their solo pipes with Coad belting out “Vieni, o levita!” from Act II of “Nabucco,” Longmuir performing “Che gelida manina” from Act I of “Le Boheme,” and Onuki singing “Mi chiamano mimi” from Act I of “Le Boheme.”

The opera songs concluded with the chorus of the Alps singing “Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate” from Act III of “Nabucco.”

After taking a short intermission, the program resumed with cantata “Carmina Burana.” Handa and the three guest singers were accompanied by the Alps choir and the Little Singers of Tokyo and were backed up by the orchestra for their performance. At the end, the performers received a standing ovation and the audience called for an encore.

For their encore, they sang “Furusato,” or hometown, a song written and composed for music textbooks used in Japanese public schools in the early 1900s. This very popular song provided a perfect “for the people” moment to wrap up the program.

The Tokyo Art Foundation (TAF) was founded in February 2011 to promote various forms of music and other entertainment. The group puts on a wide variety of concerts, ranging from rock and enka to opera and classical music, as well as theatrical plays across Japan.

The International Foundation for Arts and Culture promotes social welfare activities through free music and art events. It staged a concert, featuring “The People’s Diva,” Renee Flaming, in Tokyo in June. Since its foundation in 1996, IFAC has enjoyed the support of many political figures, including Honorary Chairman Shizuka Kamei, who has held many government ministerial posts.