This is Nancy Gaffield’s libretto, based on her 2011 poetry collection of the same name, for Nicola LeFanu’s chamber opera (2014). In 1832 the young Hiroshige sets out on Japan’s great Eastern Sea Road, the Tokaido, linking Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. The paintings he creates along the way reveal the secrets of a hidden country. As the young artist, Hiro savours all his adventures-not least the amorous ones-and his paintings bring to life everyone he meets: old men and beautiful women, samurai and geisha, pilgrims, porters and passers-by. Hiroshige in old age is present in the opera too, reflecting on what had gripped his imagination twenty-five years earlier. Behind every welcoming tea-house (‘station’) on the Tokaido, there was another story: poverty, persecution, famine. Hiroshige braved the government censor by publishing prints that show the horror of death through starvation. His work reminds us of the power of art to bear witness.
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