“When I was composing this, I never imagined today’s situations. But it’s perfect timing. Wells’ science fiction has become today’s reality.”
— Dai Fujikura
On November 14th 2020, Dai Fujikura’s third opera A Dream of Armageddon
was premiered at the New National Theatre in Toyko. The production united an international team around librettist Harry Ross, director Lydia Steier and conductor Kazushi Ono, who brought the work to the stage under exceptional circumstances. In the four performances, lead roles were created by tenor Peter Tantsits, bass baritone Seth Carico and soprano Jessica Aszodi.
A Dream of Armageddon (2020)
an opera in nine scenes, Libretto by Harry Ross
(after the short story "A Dream of Armageddon" by H.G. Wells)
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World premiere: Tokyo, 14. November 2020
The rehearsals were socially distanced – some virtual and some continents apart. Fujikura reveals in an interview with the Japan Times that this isn’t problematic, at least for him: ”Actually, I’ve been collaborating with people via Skype for over 15 years.“
In contrast to his first operas Solaris and The Gold-Bug, which are based on popular works of literature, the composer chose a lesser known source for his third opera. H.G. Wells’ short story A Dream of Armageddon gave Fujikura “room for imagination and adaption,” the composer says. With this project, Fujikura and his friend and librettist Harry Ross created their first opera together after years of prior collarboration. And with Wells’ story, they chose a subject which is still relevant today:
“The inescapable sense of uncertainty and fatal cost of inaction that Wells describes in his short story is clearly as relevant now as it was in 1901.” (Japan Times)
About the work
The science-fiction novel, published in 1901, pictures a dystopian world with totalitarianism, war and weapons of mass destruction. For the role of dictator “Johnson Evesham,” Ross and Fujikura, who have not included policital subjects in their works before, studied dictator’s speech patterns on Youtube. The role of Bella was interpreted and modernized to reflect the strong leading roles of women in politics today, contrary to the passive “dream girl” characterization by Wells. “This opera is out of this world as it is a dream, but it is also incredibly relevant to today. It's like a mirror.“ (Dai Fujikura)
When Kazushi Ono emailed me out of the blue, asking to commission my 3rd opera for full chorus and symphony orchestra, he asked for a story with contemporary relevance.
I thought that H.G. Wells' short story was a perfect grist for the work. The story, written well before the first and second world wars, is about a totalitarian world at war which is described through a conversation between strangers on a train.
I was immediately hooked by this story, as for 20 years, my librettist collaborator and I have wanted to make an opera starting from a scene on a commuter train! We never made that opera, not only because we were 20-year old's who had no possibility of a commission, but also because we couldn't fully decide what would happen after the initial train-conversation. Now I have an offer, AND the short story starts from a train conversation which turns into the story of a dream which is oddly prescient.
World premiere in Toyko
With this project, I collaborated with Librettist Harry Ross who I have worked with for over 20 years for so many of my vocal works, and director Lydia Steier. We have all been trying to find a project to collaborate on for several years, as I feel her vision will give my music wings. In this work the chorus changes from a train of commuters into a bloodthirsty army. The chorus predicts a possible future for us all...
All of the dramatic scenes move in and out of a dreamscape. You're never sure what is fact and what is imagined. There's a futuristic moving corridor, and future music in a dance hall which is, according to HG Wells, indescribable. Dynamic characters inhabit this future dream world, and their emotional, political views are sung out over a lyrical story line.
It had to be an opera It had to be a dream, one from which I hope we wake up.
— Dai Fujikura
Score of A Dream of Armageddon
"Guided by the baton of conductor Kazushi Ono, a choir comprised of 48 members appear on stage, dressed like eerie phantoms with white masks and white bodysuits. Instead of the usual orchestral overture that begins an opera, powerful human voices without instrumental accompaniment let out an intermittent melody with lyrics that repeat the word “armageddon,” drawing the audience into a foreboding story about fear and uncertainty in times of crisis."
The Japan Times
"Fujikura's skill is in drawing this process! The slow and repetitive music of the dreamy
feeling becomes distorted, and if you notice it, the dictator (Seth Carico)'s fraudulent
speech, the enthusiastic performance of the New National Theater Chorus, the cheers of
the brainwashed people, the war the loud sound of the dictator begins to envelop the
theater as horrifically… Nightmares swallow reality."
Photos: Masahiko Terashi / New National Theatre Tokyo