Conductor Michiyoshi Inoue Lowers Curtain on Musical Career with Opera

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Conductor Michiyoshi Inoue speaks about his aspirations in front of rehearsal props for his opera at his home in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Conductor Michiyoshi Inoue, who has announced his retirement at the end of 2024, will perform his autobiographical opera “A Way from Surrender” this month, bringing down the curtain on his musical career.

The 76-year-old conductor will premiere the opera, which he composed himself, with the New Japan Philharmonic.

“I’ve put everything that I found strange about my life into the opera,” Inoue said.

Through the opera, Inoue said he wants to pose a question to the audience: “What do people live for?”

Born in 1946, Inoue began his career as a conductor in his early 20s. Why did the conductor, who has performed for over half a century, write an opera before closing the curtain on his professional musical career?

His personal conflict over his origins led him to take on this opera project.

“I didn’t know that my biological father was an American soldier stationed in Japan until I was in my 40s, when my mother told me,” Inoue said. “What on earth is family? What was the war that so affected my parents? I couldn’t help but ask someone such questions.”

The opera tells a convoluted story. The protagonist, Taro, is a painter who becomes intrigued by a portrait he once painted of his parents, Masayoshi and Michiko. He relives through dreams what his parents went through in the Philippines during the war. Back in reality, Taro does not know what to believe in as his parents remain silent about their past.

“Taro is me, and Masayoshi and Michiko are very much like my parents,” Inoue said.

As the nation is defeated in the war, Taro’s family is faced with hardships. Taro is at the mercy of his difficult-to-swallow fate, but as time goes by his life, like music, heads toward an ending.

It took Inoue a total of 10 years to complete this opera. He calls himself a complete amateur, even though he has composed music in the past.

“I first completed the script and then added the music. My musical drawer is a jumble of all the works that I’ve performed so far,” Inoue said. “Wagner’s Leitmotif, Czerny’s exercises, in addition to hymns, a Filipino bamboo dance piece, and so on. I’ve incorporated a lot of different types of music into this opera.”

During a rehearsal with vocalists, Inoue said he found such a mix of music amusing and burst into laughter as he was singing his work.

“When the notes on the score are played, they are born just for a moment and then disappear. A performance is meant to be a work to remember that moment,” Inoue said.

Ever since he started aspiring to become a conductor at the age of 14, Inoue has pursued the possibility of such a performance.

In late 2022, Inoue conducted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the NHK Symphony Orchestra. He remains fully capable of conducting, so why is he retiring at the end of 2024?

“I want to quit while I can still swing my baton with satisfaction,” he said. “I don’t want to lie to myself to keep working.”

This opera is the culmination of his musical experiences and an overview of his life history inherited from his parents. Yet completing the opera does not mean he has reached his conclusion.

Inoue believes that artist Taro Okamoto’s famous words — “Art is an explosion” — have true meaning. Inoue believes ideal music transcends good and evil by burning through intense energy.

“I want to feel that I’m living on the stage. And after the last sound fades out, the true end will come, like the rich ocean tides’ rise,” Inoue said.

The opera, through its every moment, speaks of a musician’s experiences.

The opera, “A Way from Surrender,” will be performed in Tokyo at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21 at the Sumida Triphony Hall in the Tokyo’s Kinshicho district, and at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at Suntory Hall in the Akasaka district.