Mitchell, who will tonight launch the full program for the September 21 – October 8 festival, says Miku is like the Asian equivalent of a star such as Beyoncé in terms of her cultural influence.
“She’s a vocaloid – basically a virtual-reality pop star.
“In countries like Japan and Taiwan and Hong Kong, and even China, she’s huge. She sells out 20,000 or 30,000-seat stadiums when she performs [as an animated projection] … in Tokyo, there are posters of her everywhere.”
Miku – who has trademark long turquoise pigtails – was the first vocaloid (or singing voice synthesiser) developed by the Japanese company Crypton Future Media. Her Facebook page has around 2.5 million followers, and she has featured in more than 100,000 songs and 170,000 YouTube clips.
But she made a giant leap from the world of pop to virtual opera with The End, conceived and composed by acclaimed Japanese composer and classical pianist Keiichiro Shibuya.
“He was thinking about what is opera in the 21st century and what icons are significant in our culture,” Mitchell says.
“And he pieced together this idea of, ‘What if I create the world’s first opera with no actual orchestra and no actual singers, but a complete virtual opera using Hatsune Miku as the star?’.”
The resulting work, which features a libretto by playwright Toshiki Okada and virtual costumes by Louis Vuitton, is about 80 minutes long and will be presented in the Dunstan Playhouse through a complex multi-media set-up, with Shibuya in a small producer’s booth at the side of the stage.
Mitchell saw it himself in Europe and describes it as an incredible experience. He is hoping the Adelaide show will attract both fans of Miku and traditional opera fans who are interested in seeing what it is all about.
“It’s one of those shows that will spark some debate because he [Shibuya] is bold enough to call it an opera, but for me this is really about people wanting to take a risk seeing what’s leading the way in other parts of the world.”
Shibuya told InDaily he spent a year composing The End, co-operating with a vocaloid programmer named Pinocchio-P as well as a visual artist (YKBX) and spatial sound designer (Evala). There is no written score for the work; songs were instead programmed directly onto a computer.
“In this opera, the singer sings as if to whisper in the most part,” Shibuya says. “In other words, it is an opera with whispering, and its singing expression is amazingly modest.
“Dynamics of video and electro-acoustics are not something to complement it but are used to create different types of emotions.
“In fact, I was excited from the beginning to the end of the creation process feeling that I was creating something brand new – an opera which has never existed before.”
The libretto sees 16-year-old Miku facing an existential crisis, questioning her identity, to what extent she is like humans and whether she will experience death.
One of the questions she asks is: “Why, if you’re no longer here before me, do words like ‘me’ and ‘you’ become useless?”
Asked what kind of experience Adelaide audiences can expect from The End, Shibuya offers a response that gives further insight into how he came to create the work.
“This opera is based on my very personal experience and story,” he tells InDaily.
“After I lost my wife who committed suicide, I began asking myself, ‘What is life and death?’
“The composition of the opera is fragmentary and goes on like a dream. These unique and mysterious effects give room for each audience to have possibilities to interpret the work as they want.”
Joseph Mitchell says bringing the show to Adelaide is a big undertaking, but is in keeping with the festival’s aim of introducing cutting-edge arts and culture phenomena from other countries to Australian audiences.
“It’s really out-there stuff,” he says of The End.
“It basically takes the elements of a huge cultural phenomenon / pop icon and adds these complex layers of an incredible musical score and an incredible libretto and pushes the boundaries of how we talk about and define opera in the 21st century.”
During the OzAsia Festival, Keiichiro Shibuya will also premiere a new “chamber opera experiment” called Scary Beauty, which he composed for Skeleton, a sophisticated robot that will sing live on stage accompanied by the Australian Art Orchestra.
The End will be presented at the Dunstan Playhouse on October 3 and 4 as part of the 2017 OzAsia Festival, which launches its full program tonight. Scary Beauty will be at the Space Theatre on September 30 and October 1.