Kumiko Mori


Since 1997, mezzo-soprano Kumiko Mori, 46, has played Madame Thenardier more than 2,000 times in the hugely successful Japanese stage production of “Les Miserables.” A couple of times a week she can be seen on a variety of shows ranging from travel and food specials to talk shows and comedies. She’s also published a cookbook of her original recipes, appeared on more than 30 CDs and released two of her own. She says that being in the limelight that much has not blurred but sharpened her vision.

The key to a successful life is to treat yourself very well. I am so good to myself, so I have a large capacity to be nice to others as well, too. My husband is very similar, so we pamper ourselves and each other.

My husband is my best friend, but there is no need to tell him everything.When coming home, if I happen to be having any negative thoughts, I just replace them with ideas to surprise him and make him laugh. He does the same for me, so we always have fun. Our home is a sanctuary.

I might look big to some, but for me I am probably as perfect as I will ever be. I accept myself and others as they are so I feel content. I am also super-healthy and exercise about five days a week.

I love food so much that I go to great distances to eat what I want. In Italy I really wanted to eat himono, a type of dried fish that they do not make there. So I bought fresh fish, hung it outside for days to dry, then made a grill out of wire and smoked it on top of that in my kitchen. Before I knew it, people were banging on my door and cute Italian firemen with hoses were climbing through the window.

To make it big, talent alone is just not good enough. In Japan, there is no actors’ guild or actors’ union so we are all at the mercy of powerful talent offices and mean directors and producers. Basically, the talent offices have all the power so the biggest challenge is to find a great manager. Without one, there is no way to succeed here.

We need more auditions! Japanese opera theaters don’t audition Japanese and simply hire foreigners for every role. We have this excellent classical music education system yet the greatest Japanese singers from the best music colleges never make it to the stage. I had hoped this awful system would change but so far nothing has improved.

Of course I love the opera, but I also love making fun of it. For example, in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the heroine Violetta is supposed to die of tuberculosis, but she is usually played by overweight singers like me so I always imagined that she was really suffering from diabetes. These kinds of thoughts just crack me up. I just can’t help it. I don’t know how the audience can watch us without laughing.

I believe that disappointments are chances for new discoveries. I was 20, studying opera singing in Milano, and on a Sunday I took the train to Modena to see Puccini’s “La Boheme” at a matinee show. I was stunned. Not so much by the wonderful show but more by the audience. Children as small as 4 or 5 years old were listening intently and during the intermission, they discussed the story with their parents. Suddenly I felt so down and thought I could not compete with singers who were at the opera from such a young age. To cheer myself up, I flew to London and saw my first musical, “My Fair Lady,” and I immediately fell in love with that theater form and decided to devote my life to it.

Verbalize your dreams and they will all come true — every single one of them, so make sure you wish for the right thing! I noticed how true this was when, at 20, I wanted to play Mrs. Higgins in “My Fair Lady” and the following year I actually did. Since then, I just keep telling everyone what my hopes and dreams are, and so far they all have come true, one by one.

For more peace in the world, we need more karaoke machines. Most Japanese have a lot of stress yet we are pretty calm and have the highest longevity. That’s because we sing, which is a great way to release stress. The key is to be funny and make people laugh and not worry about singing well. Tone-deaf people can be the greatest singers.

I have too many feelings and too big of a heart so my body had to expand to accommodate all those emotions. I really sensed a major shift in my personality and health as I was putting on weight. At 17, I moved to the United States, and I went from 40 kg to 60 kg. My classic uptight Type A character was suddenly changing into a laid-back Type B. My low blood pressure stabilized and my health improved. Then at 20, I was living in Italy where luckily I gained another 20 kg. Since then I have been living in pure bliss and nothing can disturb my harmony.

Sometimes children think I’m a cartoon character or a kind of living stuffed animal. I was in the U.S., walking around in Disneyland, and suddenly some kids asked me what story I was from. Hmm, that’s a good question.

We regret what we don’t say, not what we say. I express my feelings all the time, but I am very careful not to hurt others because if I do, I feel even worse. So I usually wrap my message in humor.

My motto is unless I am happy, I can not make others happy.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Weekend Japanology” www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html