Masago's Confession
for soprano & computer

from Rashomon; the Opera

music by Alejandro Viñao
text by Craig Raine
Duration: 8 minutes.

Masago's Confession is a scene from "Rashomon", a chamber Opera which I wrote for the opening of the new building of the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie in Germany, in 1997. The libretto of the Opera was written by Craig Raine and is based on a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The story is better known in the West as a film, Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa.
The basic plot of the opera is simple to tell. A bandit lures a couple into a thick grove. He overpowers the husband, ties him up, and rapes the wife in front of him. The husband is subsequently killed and the bandit is arrested. The husband's body is found by a woodcutter. The wife disappears and later reappears in a temple to 'confess' her story. The wife, the bandit, the husband and the woodcutter each have different and incompatible versions of the events.
Masago's Confession is the scene where Masago narrates her own version of the events. Perhaps the most contradictory facet of the story is that Masago, like all the other characters in the opera claims to be the killer.
The structure of the piece is like an aria in that Masago alone sings, addressing her story to a monk who listens silently in a Japanese temple. Yet, the music played by the computer weaves a complex sound world around Masago's voice creating a musical discourse with little similarity to a traditional operatic aria. The computer interrupts, complements or juxtaposes her version of the story providing a further layer of ambivalence in a drama which exposes the impossibility of arriving at an objective view of events when deep human emotions and fears are involved.
The music has a non-European character in terms of its timbre and the melismatic phrases used in the vocal writing, but in spite of the origin of the story it does not set out to sound specifically Japanese. It is an ambiguous sound world where the dividing 'edge' between the voice and the computer is as blurred as the truth the story fails to unravel.
Timbral transformations (sound 'morphing' techniques) are used extensively to create a continuum between Masago's voice and the sound world generated by the computer. The sound of a Japanese shakuhachi played and transformed by the computer is permanently coming 'in and out' of Masago's voice. This shakuhachi sound world has a similar relationship with the other characters in the opera. The musical relationship between the shakuhachi and the voice is like the relationship between the actual events and the different versions; they repeatedly intersecting each other giving the momentarily but false impression of being one and the same.

Masago's Confession was commissioned by the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe and was produced at the composer's private studio in London





Catalogue of works

index of works

Programme notes


Reviews & articles

Audio excerpts




            THE TEXT


      "I was only nineteen years old, O holy father.
      We had been married seven happy months.
      When he had used me for his lust and left,
      his blue kimono billowing behind,
      I turned to where my husband was tied up.
      The gag pulled down the corners of his mouth
      so that his face was tragic, a Kabuki mask.
      I did not recognise his stranger's eyes.
      I searched for tears trembling there
      to match the mirage in my own
      which made the bamboo curtain faint.
      And grow upright again. And faint.
      Seeing the hatred in my husband's eyes,
      I said with broken, mended, broken voice:
      You saw my shame. And now your nostrils smell my shame.
      I am defiled forever and so we both must die.
      I will kill you first and then myself.
      The expression in my husband's eyes agreed,
      Then I saw my dagger shining like the evening star,
      uncertain, tearful, on the grass, a million miles away,
      I think I said: Takejiro, give me your life.
      And I pushed the blade easily.
      I must have fainted.
      I woke up somewhere on the forest floor,
      Takejiro had gone to kiss his ancestors on both cheeks.
      But then I couldn't kill myself
      I stabbed my throat and lived.
      I threw myself into a lake
      but felt my body fight for breath on shore.
      I hanged myself and was rescued by my hands.
      I am only nineteen, father, holy father.
      It will take a life to die of shame."