updated 4/14/2005 8:46:42 PM ET 2005-04-15T00:46:42

The conductor of the New York City Opera, Atushi Yamada, other opera officials, representatives from the Japan National Tourist Organization and two mascots for the Aichi World Expo 2005 attended a benefit dinner at the opera house Wednesday for the company's upcoming Japan tour.

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Yamada is on the brink of fulfilling his dream and will be bringing some 185 members of the opera house to make his debut in Japan during the Expo, where his company has been selected as an official participant of the U.S. cultural program.

The conductor and his colleague, Matthew Price, an executive assistant to the general and artistic director, have been hard at work since November 2003 in efforts to take part in the program and secure the necessary funds.

Although they have received funding from American and Japanese corporations, they still are seeking additional funding to cover the costs of transporting the entire company to Japan and to reduce the normally exorbitant prices so as to entice younger audiences who may be attending an opera for the first time.

Yamada's company will present two performances each of Giacomo Puccini's "Madame Butterfly," which is set in Nagasaki and centers on a tragic love story between an American naval officer and a former geisha, and "Little Women," a popular American classic based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.

It is the first time for Yamada to conduct "Madame Butterfly" in his own country.

American musical director George Manahan will conduct "Little Women," which takes place in New England, during its Asian premier.

The opera house will perform "Little Women" at Tokyo's Kosei Nenkin Kaikan on May 19 and "Madame Butterfly" on May 22, and then move to Nagoya's Aichi Prefectural Arts Theater where it will perform "Madame Butterfly" on May 26 and "Little Women" on May 28.

The company will also conduct educational outreach programs for students in nearby schools.

"We are so happy to be here on this tour in May," said Paul Kellogg, the general and artistic director at a dinner address. "It is an outstanding honor to have been selected for this position in 2005."

The tour will entail many firsts for the country, said Elliot Slade, who is chairman of the advisory committee for the opera house's tour to Aichi, which also includes former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker.

It marks an important occasion for the company as it is the first time for it to go to Japan. It will also be significant as the New York City Opera, which was founded in 1943, will work with school children in that country.

Yamada's agent, John Miller, president of Pinnacle Arts, is excited by the prospect of attending performances in Japan and sees the potential in using music to bridge cultural divides.

"I see music as a bridge to create a global culture," Miller said.

Also present at the event were the two green mascots from the Expo, Kiccoro, the child and Morizo, the grandfather of the Aichi forests.

The Expo began March 25 and runs through Sept. 25.

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