Metropolitan Opera (Part 1)

New York, N.Y. The first moving performance in the history of a metropolitan stage as it is

In return for Japan of Cultural Exchange.

Becoming an Impresario in 1967, , , I immediately began to work on bringing Kabuki from Japan to USA.the grand  Kabuki, which is the most important performing arts in Japan, . so then, after accmplishing this in i969, I thought of  bring the Metropolitan Opera (MET), America’s best arts group, to Japan. ” This t would be a reward and true cultural exchange between our two countries. Inviting the Met Opera to Japan was not a new idea. Many times before, various organizations tried, but there were so many difficulties besides the enormous cost. and the idea was given up. I guess there were no idiots like me who did not give up!

When I started negotiationsin 1970, I was flatly refused by Mr. Skyla Chapin, then the general manager of the Met. “I cannot even do a calculation which  is absolutely impossibly enormous” But I insisted to get the numbers and I was shocked to see how high it was.. But I did not give up. Struggling to secure various sponsorships many months has passed.  At the end, Nagoya Chukyo TV decided to sponsor, and the plan was to do this in1975 at the occation of anniversary of….. 

The Metropolitan Opera with all 400 people, and  all the sets and Costume to Japan!. The idea itself was awesome.  I negotiated all members of the luxurious dream big stars, such as Luciano Pavarotti, and Franco Corelli (tenors), Joan Sutherland (soprano), Marilynn Horn (mezzo soprano), etc.. This was the first overseas tour in history as MET in totality to move.  We needed two chartered aircraft for members only and two cargo planes and a cargo ship. I chose only the famous operas “”, “La Boheme,”, “Carmen” and “La Traviata”

The tour cities were decided in three cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, but when we opened the box office, Tokyo tickets sold fairly well, but Osaka did not sell well and Nagoya was absolutely None!.  I knew this after the tour started and when the performances began. If we could not sell in all three cities, Sponsor’s Chukyo TV will suffer a big deficit and Mr. Sakuma in charge will have to resign, be headed!  The situation was serious.

When I think of it now, in Japan, in the beginning of 1975, Western Opera had not yet penetrated Japan as it is now, and I think that people in Osaka and Nagoya who would like to enjoy opera are very few.

So, I came up with an idea:  live broadcast of Tokyo performance on NHK TV. However, my idea was totally rejected .” TV production  of the opera costs more money than one performance,” do not think anything about free service,!!” the management side of MET totally opposed it。They said:. There are many unions and they would not agree.  When I insisted and asked about the Unions,, they said finally,” MET has 14 labor unions. Union of singers, union of orchestras, union of stage staffs, union of costumes  make ups etc etc.

 So, I proposed the idea of bombshell.   I said hypothetically, If each of the 14 Unions individually would agree, this might be miraculously possible. .Is it not true??. The management said,  “We will not absolutely have nothing to do with this kind of talks. We heard nothing today.”. So I said, “I do not have to talk and negotiate with you further, but please give me the right to negotiate with the unions. I will negotiate directly with all labor unions”, they thought that it is impossible for all unions to accept it  As I thought, they said, “We consider that we did not know or hear anything about this”, Then, the management people have disappeared in Karuizawa or somewhere.

Direct negotiation with 14 unions

In this way, my first direct negotiations on MET history with 14 union began. We negotiated with each union member and the heads of Unions late each night after the performance.. What I emphasized was that the history of Western Opera in Japan is just beginning, and you are making the history. .Tickets can not be sold easily.   it is certain that many opera fans will come about, be created and be able to enjoy so many operas from now on. You, the great MET is pioneering this. Do you appreciate future hope for the Opera Art because of your performance? It was the association of singers who was first unanimously accepted., most favorable and they immediately took OK. No way! It was the union of the orchestra that I got scolded, booed, and totally rejected. but after  we began negotiations directly with unions such as chorus, costumes, makeup, stage equipment and so on, I went back to the Orchestra Union at the end. I had 13 of 14 unions tatally agreed and accepted for the broadcastin.

At this time already Tokyo performance had already almost finished. It looked like the time was already too late!. The Met will head to other cities shortly afterwards. Negotiations with the NHK Hall, the venue, were also agreed with NHK, in charge of live broadcasting. Tomorrow was the last day of Tokyo performance,  “La traviata”. From about 2 days before, when the last day approached, the story of my pitch finally came stronger and the labor union’s OK increased one by one

Originally published as Vol. 22 in Weekly Biz, April14, 2018; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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