The sounds of waves, of wind, of nature in a world where the dead move as close as breath to the living: when Toshio Hosokawa wrote Matsukaze, he could not have known what associations his future audiences would make with the piece.
He and director/choreographer Sasha Waltz were putting the final touches on the piece for its Brussels premiere when the tsunami hit Japan. They resolved to change nothing. Zeami’s 15th-century Nô play, which forms the basis of Hannah Dübgen’s libretto, has timeless enough themes to weather even these storms.
Matsukaze, premiered in Brussels on Tuesday, tells the story of two ghost sisters who must find release from their binding love of a mortal man. A fisherman and a Buddhist monk help them find redemption. Like Daphne, they become one with nature.
Hosakawa’s music is spare and coherent. An ensemble of 22 instrumentalists, a chorus of eight, and four soloists weave a hypnotic tapestry of sound. Though the Japanese wind bells, whose sound so colours this score, are not tuned to western scales, the chief impression remains one of profound consonance. Octaves, parallel fourths and fifths, bass pedal points and expostulatory percussion interjections create an ecclesiastical aura of purity.
Waltz’s direction takes equal place with the score. She has melded dancers and singers into one expressive ensemble who fly and swim through space like a strange dream of nature. Artist Chihura Shiota has created a double wall of web-like black wool for the production, a matted gauze that symbolises the porous wall between the living and the dead. Behind it, the sisters and their ghostly companions float and climb, half angel, half spider.
Barbara Hannigan and Charlotte Hellekant are spellbinding as Matsukaze and her sister Murasame, blending vocally with each other and physically with the dancers as though they had been Japanese spirits since the beginning of time. Chorus and instrumentalists are flawless; Pablo Heras-Casado holds together his forces with deft assurance.
Matsukaze is meticulously made and compellingly beautiful. La Monnaie has brought together a team whose work is so harmonious that it hurts, and the 80 minutes of the performance pass all too quickly.
Production goes on to Luxembourg and Berlin, lamonnaie.be.