Folktales and legends re-enacted and celebrated

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The Tokyo Art Foundation (TAF) hosted the opera “Yuzuru” (“Twilight Crane”) at the New National Theater’s Opera Palace in Tokyo on Aug. 1, entertaining a full house of about 1,700. The performance was hosted by the TAF and supported by the International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC).

Before the opera, TAF Chairman and music critic Haruhisa Handa, dressed in a formal men’s kimono that consists of a haori (half-length jacket) and hakama (split-skirt), spoke on how to enjoy opera — “Yuzuru” in particular — to the audience.

Based on the Japanese folktale “The Grateful Crane,” “Yuzuru” is Japan’s most renowned opera that has been performed over 800 times in Japan and overseas since first opening in 1952.

Handa, who also goes by Toshu Fukami, recommended that the audience enjoy soloists’ voices, as well as to take note of how they are able to project their voices to the back of the theater — an essential skill since opera singers do not use microphones. “Today’s cast represents the finest singers, with expressive voices that have performed ‘Yuzuru’ many times,” he said.

Soprano Hiroko Onuki played Tsu, an injured crane who is saved by the farmer Yohyo (tenor Naoki Tokorodani). Tsu transforms herself into a human in secret and becomes Yohyo’s wife, weaving him a beautiful cloth from her feathers. Baritone Masanobu Shibayama played Unzu and bass Shigeki Mine played Sodo, greedy villagers who persuade Yohyo to make Tsu weave more luxurious cloth in order to make a fortune. Tsu agrees, on the condition that Yohyo never visits her while she weaves.

However, tempted by Unzu and Sodo peeping into Tsu’s weaving workshop, Yohyo also looks and finds a crane. After Yohyo breaks his promise Tsu leaves him, transforming back into a crane.

Throughout his musical career, Handa, whose singing covers a wide range that includes opera, pop and noh, has earned various degrees and honors from schools in and outside Japan. Among them are Musashino Academia Musicae and Edith Cowan University’s Academy of Performing Arts. He also earned an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from The Juilliard School.

Additionally, in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the death of Bruce Lee, TAF hosted actor Donnie Yen and action star Yuen Biao, who were both inspired by Lee, in discussions about the legendary martial artist. The event was to celebrate the launching of sales for the Bruce Lee tourbillon watch that Misuzu Corp., which sells imported watches, holds exclusive Japanese sales rights to.

TAF and Misuzu also hosted the “Bruce Lee Festival” with Donnie Yen to honor Lee, at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo on Aug. 1. Handa and Yen talked about various topics, including Yen’s Hollywood and Hong Kong projects that include “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and Disney’s “Mulan” remake, as well as the “Ip Man” series, where Yen plays Ip Man, a legendary martial artist who was Lee’s master in real life.

TAF and Misuzu also hosted “Bruce Lee Festival Eve,” with Yuen to honor Lee, at the Kichijoji Dai-Ichi Hotel, Tokyo, on July 29. In Lee’s unfinished film “Game of Death,” Yuen was chosen to play Lee’s double. Yuen said he had aimed to become like Lee while also incorporating his own style.

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

Handa also chairs IFAC, which promotes social welfare activities through music and art events. Since its founding in 1996, IFAC has enjoyed the support of many figures, including Honorary Chairman Shizuka Kamei, who has held many government ministerial posts.

In past years, the IFAC held concerts with the two of the Three Tenors — Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, as well as American opera singer Renee Fleming.

Handa is also the chairman of the International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS) to promote various sports, especially blind golf. The ISPS is supported by many prominent figures, including former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who is a goodwill ambassador for the ISPS.