Arguably one of our greatest adventures was the 18-day tour to Japan in June 2002. The company performed three operas – Puccini’s Tosca, Wolf-Ferrari’s Sly, and Verdi’s Otello, starring Plácido Domingo in his signature role. Heinz Fricke conducted Tosca and Otello, although renowned Russian conductor Valery Gergiev stopped in to conduct a special performance of Otello. David Giménez Carreras conducted Sly, which featured his uncle, José Carreras in the starring role. The performances in Tokyo and Yokohama thrilled Japanese audiences, who rewarded the orchestra with some of the most appreciative ovations it has ever received. We asked our colleagues to share their favorite memories of this singular experience.
"The Japanese audiences were amazing. After every performance their enthusiasm was extraordinary - they wouldn’t stop clapping. The bows seemed to go on forever - just on and on. And long lines of fans asking for autographs from the musicians, and especially Domingo, were wrapped around the concert halls. Domingo generously stayed to sign programs until the very last person had been obliged."
"One of the best moments was the receiving line at the hotel when our buses arrived. There were members of the opera management, hotel staff who presented each of us with a red rose, and Plácido who shook each of our hands."
"We had been warned before the tour started that Japanese audiences were likely to be more low key than American audiences and that we shouldn't think that meant they didn't enjoy the performances. The warning was completely unnecessary. The audiences were wildly enthusiastic, with extended ovations, shouts of "Domingo, te amo!”, flowers raining on the stage and large groups waiting outside the stage door each night."
"I’m a vegetarian, so spent a lot of the time in Japan eating “foreign” food, like Indian or pizza, and learning words like “saikokushugisha.” I remember as the trip progressed, the “adventurous” eaters among us would often board the bus to the halls looking green around the gills at the various critters they’d been eating…"
"The thing I still remember most happily is the courtesy and helpfulness of the people. One day I had to meet someone and it involved taking the subway. A stranger saw me trying to figure out the signs and, although he spoke no English, he knew where I needed to be and insisted on walking me there, even though it was in a totally different part of the station. I am still impressed by his generosity and concern."
"The whole trip was a little different for me since I brought my entire family. My husband was playing as a sub in the cello section and our kids were too small for us to want to leave at home for nearly three weeks, especially our daughter, who was only 7 months old at the time and still nursing. I even brought my mother to help out with the kids when we were rehearsing or performing. We drew a lot of attention traveling around Japan with our very American looking children--our two and a half year old son with his blond curls and bright blue eyes, and the baby, with her full head of hair and porcelain doll features. When we went out, the kids were magnets for flocks of Japanese schoolgirls, who wanted to take photos with our kids. And the one Japanese word I still remember from the trip is "kuwai," meaning "cute"."
"One of the unanticipated benefits of the tour was the chance to get to know the wonderful members of our WNO chorus. On the tour we hung out with them on planes, buses and at the hotel. The camaraderie between the orchestra and chorus reached an all time high."
"One of the impressive aspects of the tour was the simple fact that the WNO was able to pull the whole thing off. The company had never been on a tour before - and from what I remember everything went off without a hitch. The WNO had to bring sets, costumes, a chorus, orchestra, staff, and singers all to Japan for three weeks, and organize travel to and from the halls and run-outs to Yokohama. The hotel was excellent and the logistics were expertly managed. It reinforced to me that the company could rise to meet any challenge."