Sumidagawa (Sumida River)
Classical Japanese noh by Motomasa (1401?-1432)
English translation and noh musical/performance adaptation of the Kita school version by Richard Emmert
The classical noh Sumidagawa became well-known in the West when composer Benjamin Britten based his 1964 opera Curlew River on it. In 2008-09, Richard Emmert lead a noh project at the University of Hawaii which culminated in a production of Sumida River, a translation and adaptation directly from the classical noh play. Theatre Nohgaku began working on this play in 2010 and plans are being made to tour this soon with a joint production of Curlew River.
Synopsis: A ferryman on the Sumida River is about to take a traveler across, but they decide to wait for a madwoman following close behind. The woman arrives and tells how she is looking for her son who has been taken by slave traders. As they cross, they notice a crowd on the opposite bank conducting a Buddhist memorial service. The ferryman tells how a boy died a year earlier after having been left behind by slave traders. The woman realizes that the boy was her own son. The ferryman takes her to the grave. When she begins to recite prayers, the boy’s voice is heard from inside the grave. His ghost then appears to her but when she reaches out to touch him, he slips back into the grave and disappears leaving only “sadness and sorrow.”