Interview with Akane Kudo

What interested you about THE鍵KEY?

I thought it was really unique how there would intentionally be parts of the performance which would not be seen or heard by the audience. As each of the 4 characters follow their own timeline in their own separate room, the performers barely know what rate each of the other rooms are progressing at. Usually, a conductor would manage this however in THE鍵KEY, the performers can only rely on their senses to guide them through the performance. The fact that no two performances are the same could be said to be the real charm of this work.  

How did you become involved with THE鍵KEY?

I first met Francesca a number of years beforehand. She attended a recital I gave at the Tokyo Experimental Festival where she chatted with a fellow audience member who happened to be a close friend of mine. After the recital, my friend introduced me to Francesca, who had only recently moved to Japan. Francesca then sent me the sheet music and recording for her soprano and electronics piece which I performed in a recital the following year. When speaking with Francesca one day about her idea for an opera inspired by “The Key”, she said that she would like me to perform in it. I was really happy when I learnt that the idea would become reality! 

You play the role of The Wife in THE鍵KEY. How did you create this character? 

As we were performing in traditional houses, I first thought about how to portray the kind of person who would have lived in such a house. The Wife is a woman from a previous era, living in the humid darkness of the room. She would have had very limited options when it came to choosing a partner and a very different mentality to that of women today. I began familiarising myself with kimono and taking lessons in how to wear it. During the performance, the wife changes from kimono into Western clothing. I wanted to create a sense that she isn’t suited to wearing a blouse and skirt, that she still carries herself as one would when wearing a kimono. 

Furthermore, I altered my style of singing as that required for a large hall would not be appropriate for the size of the room or for this role. I also made fine adjustments to The Wife’s personality to highlight the differences between the characters, in particular between The Daughter and The Wife, and according to the relationship with the other cast members.

There are “free” (unscripted and unaccompanied) sections set within the performance and I felt it was here the character’s revealed their true selves. The intention of these sections was to portray the character in a relaxed state, believing that no-one will see them. Putting these private moments in public view allows for hidden perversions to appear and it is also a very Tanizaki-esque thing to do. This meant that I was mindful to never lose focus throughout the performance.

THE鍵KEY is site-specific; what was it like performing in houses with a free-moving audience? 

I have been in performances which take place in the audience seating area before however, as a rule the audience stayed sat in the same place. I enjoyed performing under the different circumstances of THE鍵KEY. Sometimes in the performance, a throng of people would form in the way of where I needed to move to. I would calmly walk forwards as though there was no problem and the audience would notice and cooperate by moving out of the way. It reminded me of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea!

You have been a core member of THE鍵KEY since the beginning. How has the opera changed over time? 

At the R&D, I didn’t really understand the overall shape of the work and fumbled my way through. It may have only been Francesca and the dramaturg Alexandra who could see the whole picture. Trying to gauge audience capacity based on how the audience may or may not move must have been really worrying for the production staff. But every time we ran a scene, I understood more and more and eventually gained a clear overview. 

In this work, the character’s personalities and the degree of relationships between the family members can be represented symbolically through the handling of the house layout, room size, routes taken by the performers through the house, corridor width, whether there are stairs or not etc. Performing in different “houses” allowed us to reconsider the work each time and kept it feeling fresh.