Mr. Hirofumi Yoshida, Conductor

Maestro Yoshida Discusses His Feelings About the Upcoming Performance in Lithuania

06/27/2024 Corporate Activities, Digital Printing

Roland DG is sponsoring the XXIII International Festival Operetta to be held on July 5 and 6, 2024 at Kaunas Castle in Lithuania. We interviewed Maestro Hirofumi Yoshida, who will be conducting Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” at the festival, to hear his thoughts about the performance.
Click here for more details about the festival

Performance to Express Japan’s Essence

Roland DG: How was the opera “Madame Butterfly” selected?

When I first discussed conducting in Lithuania with Ambassador Tetsu Ozaki from the Embassy of Japan in Lithuania, we agreed to showcase the charm of Japan using Japanese musicians, and to perform an opera that would contribute to the cultural exchange between Lithuania and Japan. In that context, “Madame Butterfly,” which is set in Japan, is an opera that can convey the allure of Japan and is suitable for featuring Japanese singers on the world stage. That’s how we decided on “Madame Butterfly.”

How was the performance in Kaunas decided?

Initially, there was talk of holding it in Vilnius, the capital, but the idea of Kaunas was suggested by the embassy.
Kaunas, as you may know, is the city where Chiune Sugihara saved thousands of Jewish lives by issuing visas. For a cultural exchange and friendship between Japan and Lithuania, Kaunas is considered more sympathetic to Japan, making collaboration easier. I was surprised when I visited Kaunas; everyone knows about “Sugihara.”

Chiune Sugihara is a well-known figure there?

Yes, I visited the Sugihara House and was truly moved.
As musicians, we believe that music holds universal appeal and value, and we aim to bring music to those who need it. My visit to conduct in Ukraine last year was driven by the same sentiment.
I felt a connection between Sugihara’s way of life and our mission. This realization gave me strong motivation and confirmed the significance of performing in Kaunas.

This performance will be outdoors. What is the appeal of an outdoor performance?

An outdoor performance is spectacular and scenic, with Kaunas Castle always visible in the background. This setting offers a completely different charm from a traditional theater. The scale is grand, you can feel the history, and at night it cools down, allowing you to feel the breeze. There are many unique attractions to an outdoor performance.

Challenging the world stage

This is also an opportunity to introduce Japanese soloists to the world stage.

Exactly. I have always supported young musicians.
I believe that when musicians step onto the world stage, they need to change their mindset. They cannot perform with a modest attitude, thinking, “I’ll do my best, but I can’t say it’s the best in the world.” Instead, they need to say, “I will deliver the best performance in the world.” This is the world standard. I’ve always emphasized this mindset to young Japanese musicians challenging the international stage.

The soloists were selected through auditions. What were the criteria for selection?

Having worked in Italy, the home of opera, for over 20 years, I judged their abilities based on this experience. Additionally, I looked for expressive power that captivates people. Although Lithuania might be seen as a small country, its music level is very high, especially its choral standards.

The level of choral standards is high?

In the Baltic States, the chorus level is exceptionally high. This means the overall music level is high. I believe the selected soloists will be thrilled.

It seems that many of the Japanese soloists are young.

Yes, I deliberately chose young singers because the younger they are, the greater their potential. Facing various challenges abroad, young people have the advantage of fearlessness in a positive sense. I see great potential in that.

International Festival Operetta at Kaunas Castle in Lithuania

Scene from a previous International Festival Operetta at Kaunas Castle (Photo: Laimutis Brundza)

There are many different roles in the opera.

In “Madame Butterfly,” there are four main roles: Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly), Pinkerton (an officer in the US Navy and Cio-Cio-San’s lover), Sharpless (the American Consul in Nagasaki), and Suzuki (Cio-Cio-San’s maid). Additionally, there are supporting roles like Goro (a marriage broker), Yamadori (a wealthy prince), and Bonze (Cio-Cio-San’s uncle who is angry about her marriage to a foreigner). There are also other roles like Yakushide and a clerk. Including lead, supporting, and minor roles, there are 15 soloists and a chorus of 60-70 people.

Spreading the appeal of opera in Japan

Opera is not yet widely known in Japan. Although there are many theaters capable of staging opera, the number of performances is low. Only the New National Theatre in Japan has all the facilities needed for opera production. In Italy, there are about 50 such theaters. One of my missions is to increase the number of opera fans in Japan tenfold. This festival is a great opportunity to spark interest in opera through connections with Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, and Roland DG.

About 10,000 spectators are expected to attend.

The largest theaters hold about 2,000 people, but this time, we expect 10,000. With such a large audience, the energy is different. I hope the four Japanese soloists will truly captivate the audience.

The highlight is the high potential of the Japanese soloists and the superb performance under your baton, correct?

Yes. Since the opera is set in Japan, Japanese singers bring authenticity to the performance. When Japanese singers sing and act, it’s not imitation or knowledge-based; the opera becomes genuine. This is a tremendous advantage.

Enjoyment without formality

Since Puccini’s operas are Italian, don’t they feel somewhat distant?

Indeed, that's how it seems.

Right. It seems distant and feels like a high barrier because it’s in Italian. However, “Madame Butterfly” is relatable to Japanese people. It features at least 17 melodies from Japanese folk songs, such as “Oedo Nihonbashi” and “Sakura Sakura.”

That makes it enjoyable to listen and think, “I recognize this.”

Exactly. Knowing these details makes opera more enjoyable. Without this knowledge, it might just seem like Italian music.
You can look up the storyline, but understanding that it includes Japanese melodies and the characters’ simple explanations makes it more accessible. Puccini intended it to be enjoyed this way.

Seeing potential in Roland DG’s technology

After reviewing the provided materials, I believe Roland DG’s technology could be used for opera stage design. Can your inkjet printers create three-dimensional effects?
(Note: Referring to DIMENSE.)

Yes, we have inkjet printers that can create textured effects and 3D milling machines.

Traditionally, stage backdrops are hand-painted by set designers, which is time-consuming and costly. I am interested in exploring the potential of using Roland DG’s inkjet printers to create the director’s envisioned backdrops, especially with three-dimensional effects, which could save time and cost and prove useful for opera stage design.

We would be delighted if our technology could be utilized to create various sets.

Delivering the best performance with full dedication

Finally, could you share your main goal, enthusiasm, and aspirations for this music festival?

As an opera conductor, I believe the human voice is the greatest instrument. Even when playing the piano, we often say, “Sing more.” Singing is the foundation of music, making opera, which is filled with singing, very attractive. A performance by top singers is an unforgettable experience. I hope you enjoy it without feeling too formal.
The festival has a relaxed atmosphere, much like cherry blossom viewing in Japan for Europeans.
I hope everyone enjoys the best music in an entertaining way. I am fully committed to delivering the best performance. I promise an exceptional experience.

We look forward to the performance. Thank you very much.