“Yet should I hear you pine, my love, I shall return…”

Toshio Hosokawa’s otherworldly opera Matsukaze takes place over one long, mysterious night and relates the tale of a wandering monk who meets a fisherman on a lonely stretch of shoreline. The fisherman tells the monk about two sisters who are buried in this place and asks him to say a prayer for them. As evening approaches, the monk takes shelter in a hut that is home to the sister spirits, Matsukaze (Wind in the Pines) and Murasame (Autumn Rain). In a haunting duet, they tell him of the man they loved together, Yukihira, who left their village long ago, promising to return. Tormented by his absence, Matsukaze goes mad, imagining that she sees Yukihira in a nearby pine tree. Her belief is so strong that she convinces her sister the vision is real, and they both disappear into the ether.

Matsukaze has its American premiere at the 2013 Festival, and the artistic team has been working for months to create a production that captures the ephemeral quality of Hosokawa’s score and the spiritual nature of the Noh play on which the opera is based. Wardrobe, of course, is an integral component of any opera production, but in Matsukaze, designer Elizabeth Caitlin Ward’s costumes are much more than mere clothing: They are part of the overall design, acting almost as movable set pieces, capable of reflecting light and video projection, coming together to create geometric forms, moving apart to become part of the backdrop, and providing, through the use of color—or lack thereof—subtle distinctions between the natural world and the spiritual realm.

Ward believes that the “sisters” can be interpreted in two ways: They could, in fact, be two women in love with the same man. Or they could represent one woman’s soul torn in two directions: bound to the earth as she pines for her lost love (“matsukaze” has the same double meaning of the English word “pine”), or ascending, freed from earthly desires. To portray the “not-of-this-world” nature of the sisters, Ward dresses them in white kimono-like garments and white makeup, in stark contrast to their long black hair. She imagines the sisters’ garments as many-layered and translucent, deteriorated, not solid. They carry with them a boldly colored robe, a reminder of their lover, that functions as both a narrative prop and set element. Against the ghostly figures of the sisters, the monk and the fisherman stand out in more solid costumes of dark greens and yellows, placing them firmly in the natural world. All of the costumes are based on traditional Japanese designs, simplified to strong geometric shapes and with a contemporary edge.