Medieval Times: FRANCESCA DA RIMINI in the Land of the Samurai

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April 13, 2013 (delayed screening) – Fukuoka, Japan
Marco Armiliato; Eva-Maria Westbroek, Marcello Giordani, Robert Brubaker, Mark Delavan

HD FRANCESCA_Fukuoka_map of Japan

Brent and I see Francesca da Rimini for the second time in downtown Fukuoka, Japan, which is nearer to Seoul than to Tokyo.   If you picture the four main islands of Japan as a “dragon with head erect,” Tokyo is in the belly of the beast and Fukuoka the hump of its tail.  Fukuoka is also the country’s westernmost outpost of Live in HD, and its colorful little cinema only two blocks from our hotel.

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Brent & Tica outside the Taiyo Theater, home to Live in HD in Fukuoka

Watching Francesca the first time around in San Diego, we were struck first of all by the exquisite costumes and sets evoking 13th century Ravenna – but then also by the simplicity of the plot stretching through four acts and four hours, and the exaggerated gestures and facial expressions appropriate to melodrama.

All of which rang a gong a few days ago in Tokyo when we saw a short film of Kabuki screened in high-definition.  We happened to be in the capital for the grand opening of the legendary and newly rebuilt Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza.  All advance tickets for the four-act play had long sold out, and—just as at the Met—hopeful lines curled around the house for last-minute seats.  But even though our guide was unable to get us tickets inside, he led us down the block to the Sony flagship store and a fourth floor viewing room where we saw high melodrama, gorgeous costumes and ultra-stylized acting—not to mention a fatally wounded hero covered in blood but carrying on and on—set in 13th century Japan.

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Kabuki in HD: Brent & Tica at the newly rebuilt Kabuki-za Theater and Sony flagship screening

The venue called Fukuoka Nakasu Taiyo is a neat and polished multi-screen theater selling opera tickets for 3500 yen, or $35 each (and I’m lucky to have exactly 7000Ɏ in my purse because no credit cards are accepted at the theater, nor at foreign currency machines, nor at most small businesses in town!).  HD FRANCESCA_Fukuoka 1Francesca plays in an upstairs room of 150 mango-orange soft leather seats. The number of seats filled today, about 20%, is just about the same for this lovely obscure production as it was in San Diego.  We surmise that our fellow viewers are the die-hard opera buffs in town and that the more familiar works bring out the crowds.

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Enjoying the show – accompanied by our friend, Dr. Kazumi Kawase

There is certainly a devoted viewership in Japan, one of the four original countries outside the US and Canada to show Live in HD from the very first transmission of The Magic Flute in 2006.  (Japan exhibits the HDs at a 3-4 week delay, and issues its own Japanese subtitles).  Since the 06-07 Season, venues have quadrupled and ticket sales expanded in great measure.