Like a great fusion restaurant, Toshio Hosokawa’s entrancing Matsukaze—introduced in Brussels in 2011—is the rare venture that blends Asian and Western elements in just the right balance to achieve something transcendent. Keenly set to Hanna Dübgen’s German-language libretto, the Noh-based opera is at once a ghost story and an exploration of the persistence of longing and desire. The music in part reflects the meaning of the title (“The Wind in the Pines”) and with unusually rare success utilizes traditional Japanese instruments—high flutes, drums and handbells—in the context of contemporary European orchestration, including prerecorded sounds. All told, Hosokawa has written one of the most original and haunting new operas of recent years.
Sensationally received in May at the Spoleto USA Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, Chen Shi-Zheng’s video-enhanced production casts a stunning but sparely elegant visual spell for Matsukaze’s 80-minute length. Two sopranos and two baritones are featured. As sisters lamenting the same departed beloved, Pureum Jo (whose tone is ravishing even on high) and Jihee Kim offer gorgeous, wrenching physical and vocal performances, duetting both vocally and with affective movement. Gary Simpson makes a sturdy, Zen-restrained monk; the superb Thomas Meglioranza enlivens the Fisherman’s narrative role with verbal and physical detail.
Joe Miller’s Westminister Choir is interwoven brilliantly, providing sonic atmosphere. John Kennedy, a specialist in contemporary scores, mans the pit, and the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College provides a properly intimate scale.—David Shengold