To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emily Bronte, the Tenri Cultural Institute world premiered “Emily Bronte: Through Life and Death, A Chainless Soul,” composed by Akemi Naito. Naito’s work was presented within the “Healing” exhibition of visual artist Toshihiro Sakuma, which gave a minimal but deeply-meaningful surrounding for the performance to unfold. With a background projection of tumultuous rain at the beginning, which gave way to the serenity of rising lights, Sakuma’s exhibition accentuated the theme of pain and recovery that was to be felt that evening.
While her selection of Bronte’s poetry ranged from works written between her 19th and 27th years, and presented in non-chronological order, Naito’s composition served to unite them into a cohesive narrative. She accomplished this through elegant use of dissonance which led to ponderous silences, as well as the light, ethereal tones of the piano’s upper register; at one moment highlighting the beauty of Bronte’s words while at another becoming the font of passion that laid beneath them, ready to erupt in an instant. It should be noted that rather than a composition which takes inspiration from composers who were contemporary with Bronte, such as Chopin, Naito’s work carried a modern feeling that made a surprisingly-fitting combination with the classical text.
Inner to Outer
Of the process, Akemi Naito says: “I wanted to express Emily Bronte herself in this work, using her poetry as the text. Because of the extraordinarily powerful inner voice that resonates in her poetry and the root of her creativity… I chose seven poems, including three iconic poems – ‘To the Imagination,’ ‘Anticipation,’ and ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine,’ which to me clearly express her unique creativity. In an instant, using very simple words, her inner spirit soars freely, far from the boundaries of her everyday life. It is a most remarkable phenomenon wherein I sensed a certain timelessness that embraces the past, but reflects her life and feelings, filtered through her imagination. It is this spirit I aim to encompass in this project.”
To better familiarize the audience with the poems of Bronte, chiefly famous for her novel “Wuthering Heights,” the performance was preceded with a reading of the selected poems by actor Robert Ian Mackenzie. While I personally enjoyed his crystal-clear delivery, which made for an excellent introduction, the almost-regal timbre of his voice gave to the text a feeling that would be impossible to receive from a woman who did not live past her thirtieth year.
Bringing Bronte to Life
In the role of Emily Bronte, mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers was in full control of her talents as her dignified lyricism soared into full-blown jubilance, all the while with a superb diction that removed any need for me to glance down at the libretto. At her feet was a large ring of gentle light bulbs, which I saw as coming to represent the world; as she sang “To Imagination,” which deals with how oppressive life can be, she delivered the lines at the very center of the formation; the next poem, “Anticipation,” saw Bowers outside the ring, gazing down upon the world with a distant, nostalgic tenderness as she sang of the power of hope to enliven a weary existence.
Ultimately, Naito’s work excelled in giving a loving tribute to Bronte’s poetry, no easy feat as the English language has proved a tricky matter for operatic compositions. It is my hope that “Emily Bronte: Through Life and Death, A Chainless Soul” will receive future productions, as I believe it to be a wonderful example of the beauty that can be found when words mingle with music, each giving the other new life and meaning.