The Emissary - Composer Kenji Oh | Librettist Kelley Rourke  Based on the novel by Yoko Tawada. English translation by Margaret Mitsutani

The Emissary

Composer Kenji Oh | Librettist Kelley Rourke

Based on the novel by Yoko Tawada. English translation by Margaret Mitsutani

Friday, October 27, 2023 7 PM (with postshow discussion with Bay Area youth climate change leaders and Opening Night reception) – SOLD OUT!
Saturday, October 28, 2023 1 PM (with postshow discussion with Yayoi Kambara, Kenji Oh, and Kelley Rourke) – SOLD OUT!
Saturday, October 28, 2023 4 PM – SOLD OUT!

Ticket Prices: $10 Pay What You Can; $25 General; $50 Pay It Forward; free admission for ages 21 and under

Venue: ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 | Get Directions

Concessions: Preorder your concessions from the Astranda Bakery pop-up for pick-up Friday 10/27 5:30-6:30 pm, or Saturday 10/28 2-3:30 pm.

After suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, Japan cuts itself off from the world, in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any motivation are the elderly. Mumei lives with his great-grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly.

They carry on a day-to-day routine, with all children born ancient—frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.”

Sung in English with supertitles. Runtime: 50 minutes, no intermission

In this new family opera spanning generations, journey through a future where hope and resilience shine in a world on the brink. Opera Parallèle has commissioned composer Kenji Oh and librettist Kelley Rourke to create this brand new adaptation of The Emissary, based on the award-winning novel by celebrated Japanese author Yoko Tawada, as part of the seventh iteration of Hands-On-Opera. Directed by Yayoi Kambara and starring Angela Yam and Bradley Kynard, and featuring the Lick-Wilmerding High School Chorus, bring the whole family to this world premiere!

Sung in English with supertitles. Runtime: 50 minutes, no intermission

Since 2013, Opera Parallèle’s Hands-On-Opera program has created opportunities for students of all ages to have a complete operatic experience. This program gives non-professional singers the opportunity to participate in producing and performing in a fully-produced opera. The program also provides opportunities for emerging composers, librettists and creatives through the commission of new works, specifically for young performer participants and multi-generational audiences.

Part of The Emissary is this beautiful “canon,” or round, a piece of music for multiple voices to sing, but starting at different times. Introduced early in the piece, this “dragonfly canon” is sung by the whole cast at the end of the opera – and, we hope, by you as well.

From the opera The Emissary, Kenji Oh composer, Kelley Rourke librettist.

EnhanceYour Experience

These resources are designed to enhance your experience of The Emissary. An award-winning novel and best-seller across multiple countries and languages, known elsewhere as The Last Children of Tokyo and Kentoshi, Yoko Tawada turned a dystopian scenario inside out to create a playfully joyous story of hope and resilience. Opera Parallèle commissioned this operatic adaptation of the novel.

Creators Conversation

Hear from the creators of The Emissary, composer Kenji Oh and librettist Kelley Rourke in conversation with OP General & Artistic Director Nicole Paiement.

Post-Show Conversations

Hear from Bay Area youth climate activists and The Emissary Creative Team in conversation following performances in October 2023.

About the Novelist

Yoko Tawada has been described as one of the world’s leading practitioners of “exophonic literature,” or writing in a foreign language. She writes in her adopted tongue of German as well as in her native Japanese. Her writing alternates between gravity and playfulness, looking at the clarity that a person can gain from being an outsider. The National Book Award for Translated Literature was awarded in 2018 to Margaret Mitsutani’s translation of The Emissary.

“Tawada’s characters embody the idea that just living is not enough when the future is at stake.”

National Book Award Judges 2018

“ of eco-terror, family drama and speculative fiction. It is a book like no other… as satirical as it is tragic.”

The guardian


Tawada’s novel The Emissary, on which the opera is based, takes place amidst a social order built after an unnamed environmental disaster. It follows other post-apocalyptic storytelling in that the author explores the characters’ hopes and fears and thereby examines what it means to be human.


Film & TV


Climate fiction (sometimes called cli-fi) imagines possible futures depending on how humans respond to climate change. The Emissary takes place in a Japan seemingly decimated by nuclear radiation where the young get tragically sick and the elderly are forced to take care of them. Below are other imaginings of a planet dealing with climate emergencies.

Cast & Creativesfor The Emissary


Angela Yam*

Angela Yam*


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Hometown: Sacramento, CA, USA


Hailed as “radiant” by the Boston Globe, Angela Yam has sung with the Santa Fe Opera, New York City Ballet, Boston Baroque, Chautauqua Opera, and Opera Saratoga. This season, Yam joins Boston Lyric Opera as an Emerging Artist, and makes her company debuts with Opera Parallèle, Guerilla Opera, and Cambridge Chamber Ensemble.


Praised for her work in new music, her portrayal of the Bird in Jones’ and Tinley’s ICELAND was described as “stellar…a Puccini-esque soprano with incredible highs.” Yam was a New York City District Winner in the 2023 Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition, and her self-directed Visual Recital was awarded 3rd place in the 2022 American Prize Competition. She composed for and directed Nightingale Vocal Ensemble’s award-winning choral opera ADRIFT (2023), and has sung with Music at Co-Cath and Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble.


Photo credit Tira Howard

Bradley Kynard

Bradley Kynard


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Hometown: San Francisco, CA, USA


Bradley Kynard, baritone, is no stranger to Bay Area audiences. This season Mr. Kynard appeared in two operatic premiers – The Difference (Patzner) and Prospero's Island (Shearer/Stevens). He also sang the role of Zebul in Jeptha (Handel), the bass soloist in Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet (BWV 212) (Bach), and filmed the cinematic version of the new opera A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (Wold).


Past performances include Sophia's Forest (Beecher/Moscovitch) and Harriet's Spirit (Shelby/Olvera) with Opera Parallèle, Hiob (Mendelssohn), Ballad of the Brown King (Bonds), with Ukiah Symphony Orchestra and he sang the role of Dagoo in Moby Dick (Heggie/Scheer) with San Francisco Opera. He performed baritone solos in Carmina Burana (Orff) with Golden Gate Symphony and sang the role of Brooke in Little Women (Adamo) with Island City Opera.


Photo credit Will Manuel

Lick-Wilmerding Vocal Ensemble

Lick-Wilmerding Vocal Ensemble

Student Chorus

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The Lick-Wilmerding Vocal Ensemble is a performance-based chorus class open to all grades in which students will learn group vocal technique, performance styles, music history, and music theory. The ensemble will, during any given semester, learn repertoire from all genres of music, including Renaissance, Classical, Baroque, Romantic, 20th Century, Popular, Broadway, Jazz, and world music.



Composer & Librettist

Kenji Oh*

Kenji Oh*


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Hometown: Kobe, Japan


Kenji Oh is a Japanese composer based in California. He has collaborated with Giacomo Fiore, ZOFO, Amaranth Quartet, the Esoterics, Synchromy, among others. In addition to concert music, Oh has composed music for various kinds of media such as film, theatre, TV, video games, dance, and also for gymnastics floor exercise, being a gymnast himself. This year, he completed his first opera The Emissary, with a librettist Kelley Rourke and Opera Parallèle. He is currently working on his second opera with a librettist Dmae Lo Roberts and Portland Opera.


He initiated his career as a media music composer while studying at Kyoto University of Education, where he earned his BLA Degree in Information Music. He pursued his Master of Music Degree in Composition from San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied under David Garner. His music vividly illustrates imagery, like a scroll of paint or a sculpture of sound.


Photo credit S. Heo

Yoko Tawada*

Yoko Tawada*


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Hometown: Tokyo, Japan


Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, educated at Waseda University and has lived in Germany since 1982, where she received her Ph.D. in German literature. She writes in both Japanese and German, and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages.


She has received numerous awards for her writing including the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, the Kleist Prize, and the Goethe Medal. In the US, New Directions publishes her story collections Where Europe Begins (with a Preface by Wim Wenders) and Facing the Bridge, as well her novels The Naked EyeThe Bridegroom Was a DogMemoirs of a Polar Bear, and The Emissary.


Photo credit Nina Subin

Kelley Rourke*

Kelley Rourke*


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Hometown: Brooklyn/Rosebloom, NY, USA


Kelley Rourke is a librettist, translator and dramaturg. Libretti include Eat the Document, Lucy, and Stay (for composer John Glover); The Beekeeper (Wang Lu); The Emissary (Kenji Oh); Wilde Tales and And Still We Dream (Laura Karpman); The Jungle Book (Kamala Sankaram); and Odyssey and Robin Hood (Ben Moore). Her English adaptations of canonic operas have been hailed as “crackingly witty” (The Independent, London) and “remarkably well wedded to the music” (New York Times). Her work has been commissioned and performed by the Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, Royal Opera House/Covent Garden, Welsh National Opera, Washington National Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Boston Lyric Opera, Seattle Opera, Minnesota Opera, Carnegie Hall, among others.


Kelley was founding editor of Opera America Magazine and a contributor to the New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Kelley is resident dramaturg for The Glimmerglass Festival and Artistic Advisor for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative.


Photo credit Brittany Lesavoy

Margaret Mitsutani*

Margaret Mitsutani*


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Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA


Margaret Mitsutani was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the College of Wooster in 1974. She has lived in Japan since the late 1970s and holds an MA in comparative literature from Tokyo University. In addition to Yoko Tawada, she has translated the works of Kyōko Hayashi, Kenzaburō Ōe, and Mitsuyo Kakuta.

Artistic + Production

Nicole Paiement

Nicole Paiement


*Conducting 10/27 & 10/28 4PM Performances
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Hometown: Montreal, Québec, Canada


Conductor, Nicole Paiement is the Founder and Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle (OP) in San Francisco. Recently for OP, Paiement lead productions of Moravec’ The Shining, Philip Glass’ La Belle et la Bête and Everest: An Immersive Experience by Joby Talbot, a work she originally premiered on stage at The Dallas Opera, where she is Principal Guest Conductor.


An active guest conductor, Mo. Paiement has performed with companies across the US including the Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Atlanta Opera. In 2020 Paiement made her Canadian debut at Opéra de Montréal with Benjamin's Written on Skin, returning in 2023 to conduct Ainadamar by Golijov. Paiement will also return to Montreal in the 24/25 Season. In 2022, Mo. Paiement returned to The Dallas Opera with Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, and made her UK debut with the English National Opera conducting Heggie’s It's a Wonderful Life, followed by a series of concerts with Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana in Palermo. Paiement recently returned to London to conduct Talbot's Everest with the BBC Symphony at the Barbican Center.


The 2023/2024 season includes 2 world premieres with OP, a return to The Dallas Opera for Gonoud’s Romeo et Juliette, followed by a debut with the Volksoper Vienna conducting both a symphonic concert and John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary.


Photo credit Cory Weaver

Yayoi Kambara

Yayoi Kambara


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Hometown: San Francisco, CA, USA


Yayoi Kambara MFA (she/they) was a company member with ODC/Dance from 2003 to 2015 and danced as a freelance artist with numerous Bay Area companies. Past opera projects include Today it Rains, The Little Prince, Dead Man Walking, and operatic film Goodbye Mr. Chips.
Kambara was in the 4th cohort of Association of Performing Arts Professionals Leadership Fellows Program in 2020 and led "Aesthetic Shift", a year-long Community Engagement Residency for Bridge Live Arts considering aesthetic bias and relationality. She is a co-interrogator of Dancing Around Race (DAR) to research how race impacts the funding, creation and production of dance. DAR presents workshops nationally on racial equity and has published a workbook for the California Arts Council.
Kambara founded the company KAMBARA+ in 2015, as a vehicle to produce dance works and produces multi-media performance works, including film and extended reality (XR). She was awarded a William and Flora Helwett Foundation Hewlett 50 Award as a lead artist for IKKAI means once and her most recent project NI DO TO XR was commissioned by Georgia Tech Arts to share choreographic research. for more information.


Photo credit Deeksha Prakash

Jaco Wong*

Jaco Wong*

Associate Conductor*

*Conducting 10/28 1PM Performance
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Hometown: Hong Kong


Hong Kong native, San Francisco-based conductor and composer, Jaco Wong currently serves as the associate conductor of Opera Parallèle and assistant conductor at Oakland Symphony. Wong has conducted the Orchestre symphonique de Québec under the guidance of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Mason Bate’s Mercury Soul, and has assisted Elim Chan at San Francisco Symphony, Teddy Abrams at Louisville Orchestra, and Edwin Outwater at the Dr. Phillips Center Steinmetz Hall. Other career highlights include serving as assistant conductor for Festival Opera, conducting the Taipei Philharmonic, for Emmy Award-winning composer Jeremy Zuckerman, and participating in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and Monteux Music Festival.

Wong’s multimedia orchestra work Inkling, in collaboration with animation artist Evan Tedlock and neuroscientist Enrique Vargas, UCSF Sound & Music Perception Lab will be performed in New World Symphony’s “By Ear: A Journey into Musical Perception”. A finalist of the American Prize in composition, Psithaura has been performed in more than 4 countries and 7 cities, including under the baton of Donald Nally at the Northwestern University New-Music Conference. Wong has previously composed for San Jose Chamber Orchestra, Iris Contemporary Dance Company, Hocket piano duo, Lang Lang, and the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra.

As an active educator, Wong led the Harker School Orchestra to perform in Carnegie Hall and is also the resident conductor of the Great Wall Youth Chinese Orchestra, projects including collaboration with Lara Downes in Rhapsody in Blue @ 100 American Kaleidoscope. Wong holds advanced degrees from San Francisco Conservatory of Music and University of Southern California.


Photo credit Michael Stahlberg

Tony Asaro*

Tony Asaro*

Chorus Director - Lick Wilmerding High School Chorus

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Hometown: San Bruno, CA, USA


Tony Asaro received his undergraduate degree from Santa Clara University in 1998 in Theatre and Music, and later received his Masters Degree in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU, TSOA. He is a Resident Artist at American Lyric Theater. Tony co-founded and Artistic Directed FOGG Theatre in San Francisco. For FOGG, Tony wrote music and lyrics for the musicals The Cable Car Nymphomaniac, Flocked Together: The Green Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and LifeCycle.


Tony’s opera All Wounds Bleed (composer Chris Cerrone) was commissioned by American Lyric Theater and has been produced at Tulsa Opera, Brooklyn Opera Works, Chicago Fringe Opera, and University of Michigan. Tony’s one-act opera The BoatMan (composer Alon Nechushtan) was commissioned and premiered by Con Vivo Music. Tony wrote the libretto for The Halloween Tree (composer Theo Popov) which has received numerous presentations through American Lyric Theatre, and for Zheng (composer Shinji Eshima) which was performed at Opera San Jose last month.


Photo credit Brandon Roberts, Better Rugged Photography

Matthew Linzer*

Matthew Linzer*

Scenic and Costume Designer

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Hometown: Takoma Park, MD, USA


Matthew Linzer is a graphic designer, art director, creative, and costume designer living in San Francisco, CA. Long before moving into design, he studied dance at The Juilliard School and performed in numerous dance companies around the Bay Area including Smuin Ballet and Diablo Ballet for over a decade. In 2009 Mr. Linzer received his BA in Performing Arts from the LEAP Program at St. Mary’s College of California.


When not focused on creation and design, he is an avid music enthusiast, traveler and explorer, fitness lover, theater-goer, art junkie, and cruciverbalist. He is very excited to be back in the theater—now behind the scenes—and starting this new chapter in his creative life.


Photo credit Leonard Martin Hughet


Spense Matubang*

Spense Matubang*

Lighting Designer

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Hometown: Oakland, CA, USA


Spense Matubang is a freelance lighting and projections designer currently based in Oakland, California. They have been making theatre in the Bay Area since 2018. They received their degree in Theater Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2020.


Spense uses their career as a never-ending outlet for exploration, creative experimentation, and community building. They have previously designed for The Chikahan Company, City Lights Theater Company, EnActe Arts, Town Hall Theater Company, Ferocious Lotus, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Shotgun Players, SF Playhouse, West Valley Light Opera, Crowded Fire, Hillbarn Theatre, ACT Youth Conservatory, and Jewel Theatre.


Photo credit Ash Brown

*Making Opera Parallèle debut this season.


Support for The Emissary is provided, in part, by The Future Fund; Gordon Getty; Aaron Hoffer & Emi Wang; Candace Zander Kahn; Fred Levin/The Shenson Foundation; Nancy Petrisko & Don Beckham; Sam Mazza Foundation; UCLA's Asian American Studies Center and the George and Sakaye Aratani CARE Award; Akiko Yamazaki & Jerry Yang; the Zellerbach Family Foundation; and Production Circle Members Donna Dubinsky & Len Shustek.

The company debut of Yayoi Kambara was partially supported by OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors, generously funded by the Marineau Family Foundation.