New York’s Metropolitan Opera Tours Japan (B)

New York, N.Y. As I wrote in my last column, ticket sales for the first overseas performances of New York’s renown Metropolitan Opera in Osaka and Nagoya were stagnant as we continued negotiating towards broadcasting the final Tokyo performance on live TV to generate enthusiasm.  

Out of fourteen labor unions needed to approve my public relations “Hail Mary,” thirteen had given permission just the day before the last performance in Tokyo. This was our very last chance to broadcast, but the orchestra union still withheld permission.

Until then, I had only negotiated with this union’s leadership, but we were at a stalemate. I asked for permission to “talk to members of the orchestra directly.” The officials, great men, finally gave up and me that I could speak directly with the orchestra membership.

First, Everyone Had to Vote

The day before the scheduled broadcast, the performance was “La Boheme.” With two intermissions. I had three opportunities to talk with members of the orchestra: before the performance, then during the two Intermissions.

First, five minutes before the performance, I stood in front of the whole orchestra and made a strong speech. “For the first time the great Met comes out into the world, you chose my country, Japan,” I enthused. “We have been working so hard, struggling, to make this tour a success. But it is not going well. Seats are half-full in Osaka, and in Nagoya it is even worse.”

I explained, “I have been totally rejected by the great representatives of your union, who do not think we should broadcast live here in Tokyo, but I really want all of you to have your say, to vote whether this is your true intention – or not.”

Then, they explained the difficulty: there are rules for such rare voting for cases which was already voted. So, first of all, after voting was done already, they had to vote again to approve voting not only by their representatives but also by the full membership,” AND THEN, if the vote was for “all to vote again” exceeds a majority, then an additional vote by everyone could be held. It was a Byzantine, two-step process.

Part 1 of the performance ended and the first vote was held during the break. Before voting, I asked a representative of the Japanese side to speak and he gave a moving speech. He started crying, saying “The Osaka-Nagoya tickets are not yet even half sold, please, please…” Another member appeared and started crying and it became a serious appearance. We were crying and soon orchestra member also began to cry.

When they finished voting, it was 70 to 50 – and it became possible to vote for the second time. There was only the last break for the chance to vote for the second time. The fate of the tour was to be decided by the result of this last vote.

Usually I am calm, even fine, but I was very pale, just sitting still in the chair of the stage sleeve. My dear friend Luciano Pavarotti came and asked, Are you sick??? I think he knew everything. He gave me a big hug, squeezing me so tight. I tried to hide my tears.

The orchestra had voted at the second intermission, but the third act began and I still did not know the results of their vote. I was quietly sitting, my heart peaceful and happy. I knew I had done all I possibly could and whatever happened, I could accept the results in peace.

When the curtain call was over, the members who helped me ran to me, crying! I jumped for joy. More than ninety people had agreed to go forward and only about ten had opposed. The representatives  of the labor union also did not complain, and finally the approval of all fourteen unions was secured. All fourteen unions had agreed – after midnight!

Everything proceeded with great haste. On the evening of the day, preparing with great momentum after midnight following the show, broadcasting of the next day “La Traviata.” The soprano was Joan Sutherland and tenor Franco Corelli.

Such dream stars had never been realized before — an incredible gorgeous cast —  broadcast only once as the condition of permission was that it could only be broadcast once. The Met, of course, archives its treasured performances, so a copy of the broadcast must remain to this day in its treasure vault. 

Thanks to this broadcast, as we had hoped and predicted, tickets then started selling quickly and the performances in Osaka and Nagoya were both great successes. Because the broadcasted Tokyo performance had been so exceptional.

Many Memories with Luminary Members

There were various episodes of this tour. So many things happened I cannot relate them all! Franco Correlli was retired already at that time. He was mentally unstable and sick. We could not tell until the start of the performance whether he would appear. I went many times his home in New York, finally persuading him to join the tour to Japan in spite of his infirmities. I became involved with him emotionally and every time I think of this tour even to this day, I am filled with great appreciation and gratitude.  

What memories! We gathered the top stars and travelled in a luxury bus, still rare at that time. These large buses had gorgeous interiors, and we took these famous stars to tour Nikkou and go sightseeing in Kyoto, including a visit to my home residence, the Tatsumura mansion, Indeed, the tour is a very good memory.

Originally published as Vol. 23 in Weekly Biz, April 21, 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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