Written and Composed by Asako Hirabayashi

Dramaturg by Steven Epp of Theatre de la Jeune Lune

Translated by Keiko Kimura and Momoko Tanno

Soprano Momoko Tanno

Join us for a concert performance of a new opera by award winning composer Asako Hirabayashi, adapted by actor/writer Steven Epp.

Based on a well known and ancient Japanese folktale, this world premiere opera re-imagines the heart-wrenching tragedy of the Snow Witch, Yukionna — a story of a love torn between human desire, and the brutal instincts of Mother Nature. Watch as this folktale is brought to life before your eyes as it blends both Japanese and Western cultures, by blending Western opera style with Japanese arias and musicality. This concert features breathtaking performances by the Twin Cities finest chamber musicians conducted by Andrew Altenbach and soprano Momoko Tanno.
Momoko Tanno is a fiscal year 2013 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.  


Legend has it that the Snow Witch, the spirit of winter incarnate, is the ghost of a woman who perished in a snowstorm. Although she appears as beautiful as winter snow, her ephemeral beauty masks her ruthlessness.

There is no single story of Yukionna, with the oldest tale dating as far back as 1737, possibly even earlier. It is believed that the tale originated from the Tohoku region, located in Japan's frozen north. 

She is often described as young and very beautiful with deep black hair to offset her fair skin and white kimono. The kimono which is always white is often described as a summer kimono, too light for the winter conditions. She kills any who are trapped in a snowstorm by freezing them with her breath and draining the life out of them.

Notes from the Composer

“Yuki-onna” is an ancient, well-known folk tale that is often included in elementary school textbooks in Japan. Yuki means snow, and –onna is a root word for woman. The original story was included in Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales, “Kwaidan (Ghost Story). There are many versions of this tale, most of which have treated the story as a ghost story, or a thriller.  I decided to treat this tale as more of a fantasy, a story of beauty rather than fear. In 2009, I began writing the libretto and lyrics. Into this libretto I wove my own experiences as a mother of two (one has multiple disabilities and one is adopted) together with ideas about Mother Nature, natural disasters, discrimination, death, life, love, trust, sacrifice and cultural elements such as Japanese aesthetics, virtues, and philosophy. I also adopted several Japanese folk songs. The first aria was premiered by Maria Jette and Sonja Thompson in 2010 and the first reading of this opera was produced by Nautilus Music-Theater and performed by Momoko Tanno, Zeitgeist and other twin cities finest musicians in 2014.


Harukaze: the World Premiere of Yukionna Welcomes a Sold-Out House

The world premiere of Asako Hirabayashi’s Yukionna took place at JASM’s annual spring event, Harukaze, on Sunday, May 31st, 2015. Attendance exceeded expectations with the event packing Hamline University’s Sundin Music Hall to full capacity! Every seat was filled—even standing-room only attendees enjoyed the show. With minimal costumes and stage décor, the performers utilized their immense musical talent to paint vivid pictures of the heartbreaking love story of Oyuki (Momoko Tanno) and Mosaku (Shahzore Shah).
Audience members were riveted as they took in the story of Yukionna—only able to tear their gaze away from the performers to dry their tearful eyes due to the emotive performance. Recalling the event, the haunting and beautiful sounds of the final act, Sayonara (Farewell), still ring in their ears. The performance was truly outstanding and absolutely unforgettable.

When the final notes resonated throughout the auditorium, the show ended with a standing ovation—praise well deserved for all of the artists’ hard work. As guests filed out of the auditorium, they gushed with praise at this outstanding multicultural performance. One commented, “I have never seen an opera like this before…it was extremely unique...and the music was incredible!” Another attendee wrote to express his gratitude: “The score was complex, exciting, interesting, and beautifully performed! All in all...a treat to the ears, mind, and soul!” Thank you to Asako Hirabayashi for creating this fine work of art, to the talented musicians for sharing their gifts with us, to all of our sponsors for making this event possible, to Tomoko Drake and friends for providing the delicious tea and cakes for the reception, and to the attendees for sharing this unforgettable moment with us. JASM was truly thankful to host this program. We hope to see you in 2016! 

June/2015 JASM news letter

The Writer, Steven Epp

Steven Epp is an actor and writer based in Minneapolis. Steven was a co-Artistic Director of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 1983-2008, winner of the 2005 Tony award for Best Regional Theatre.

In his 25 years with Jeune Lune Steven collaborated in the creation and performance of over 50 productions. He co-authored Children of Paradise, winner of the 1993 Outer-Critics Circle award for best new play; co-wrote and/or adapted scripts for Crusoe, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The 3 Musketeers, The Pursuit of Happiness, Dashiell Hammet’s Red Harvest, The Little Prince, Euripides Medea, Kafka’s Amerika, and Marivaux’s The Deception.

Steven adapted numerous opera projects for Jeune Lune including: Don Juan Giovanni, The Magic Flute, Cosi Fan Tutte, Figaro, Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, and Boito’s Mefistofele.

Steven was a co-author of Fissures for The Humana Festival, adapted Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale for the Bakken Trio, Moliere’s A Doctor In Spite of Himself with Christopher Bayes for Yale Repertory Theatre, Goldoni’s Il Campiello for Ten Thousand Things, wrote the new play Massoud, The Lion of Panjshir, commissioned by Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles, and a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor Lost for Actor’s Theater of Louisville.

Currently Steven is co-Artistic Director of The Moving Company where he has written The House Can’t Stand, Come Hell and High Water based on Faulkner’s novella Old Man, Out of the Pan Into the Fire, based on Grimm fairytales, and Refugia.