Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Collaborative opera blends traditions of East and West

Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

A performance that promises to showcase a fine blend of the East and West by using traditions of western opera as well as Indonesian theater will be brought to stage in Yogyakarta.

The joint musical production between Indonesians and Americans, Raja Bali Candrakirana (the King of Bali Candrakirana), is scheduled to be staged at the Societet Closed Art building at the Yogyakarta Cultural Center on Thursday and Friday as part of the month-long Yogyakarta Arts Festival (FKY) VX 2003.

Co-sponsored by Yogyakarta's Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI) and the American-Indonesian Exchange Foundation, the opera is also meant to reintroduce opera to art lovers in Yogyakarta in particular and in Indonesia in general.

ISI Rector I Made Bandem said it had been years since such an opera had been staged in the country. He referred to the full stage opera Norma (Norms) composed by Bellini and directed by Apul Simanjuntak that was performed in Bandung and Jakarta in 1980.

Commissioned by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the King of Bali Candrakirana opera is a colossal music production with a cast of more than 40 singers, dancers and actors, as well as 40 orchestral and traditional Javanese gamelan musicians.

Composed and written by Vincent McDermott, a retired professor at Lewis and Clark College in the U.S. and a visiting Senior Fullbright Scholar teaching at ISI Yogyakarta, the opera's libretto was prepared by Kathy Foley, a professor at the University of California and a Senior Fullbright Scholar to Indonesia.

Noted Indonesian author Bakdi Soemanto of Gadjah Mada University's School of Cultural Studies was appointed as the translator of the libretto, while Budhi Ngurah and Yudiaryani of ISI Yogyakarta were assigned as conductor and stage director respectively.

Linda Sitinjak, the lead singer, will act as Candrakirana/Kuda Narawangsa, Kriswanti as Prawan Jagalan, and Albert Wishnu as Panji. The rest, including the orchestra and gamelan players, come from ISI.

"Vincent himself will take part in the performance as the dalang (puppet master), in which he will sing suluk (a song which preludes narration) ordinarily performed in a shadow puppet show," said Yudiaryani, who was also present at the press conference Monday.

The 90-minute opera, according to its composer, is unique in the sense that it is a fine mixture of East and West -- using the traditions of western opera as well as the Indonesian Theater.

"Musically, there is a Javanese gamelan and a chamber orchestra. The vocal styles range from bel canto to pesinden (Javanese singer usually accompanying gamelan music). Stage movements usually follow western conventions, but at times puppets derived from wayang (shadow puppet) supplant the singers on stage," Vincent explained.

The existence of a dalang in the opera, accordingly, is also borrowed from the wayang show. However, unlike in the traditional wayang show in which he stays behind the stage as the master of lore, magic and music, in this particular performance he will stand center stage to pull the strings. The opera will also showcase a trademark wayang scene involving ordinary folk whose clownish ways provide a light but trenchant view of what happens on stage.

"You will also see a lot of comedy in this contemporary performance, just like in the original opera," Vincent said.

Presented as a contemporary work, though, the whole blend will come through the story taken from the classic episode of the adventures of Panji from East Java to Sumatra, in which Panji's wife Candrakirana, like in many of the tales, disappears without warning and explanation.

In some stories, audiences are taken to follow Panji's adventures while searching for his beloved wife.

"In this particular lakon (story), the focus is on the princess. We follow her adventures rather than his, and they are marvelous to see," Vincent said.

First she is transformed into a man, a strong, able and independent person who, with a stroke of luck, becomes the King of Bali under her new name of Kuda Narawangsa. And it is in Bali that he/she must take a stand and defend his/her new country against Panji who, with his armies, is on the trail that he thinks, of his wife.

Other characters in the story include King Klono, a beloved figure in the dance world of Indonesia, whose foolish bravura normally ends sadly in his demise, and Prawan Jagalan, the serpent demon, whose machinations lead her to near triumph over our heroes.

And certainly, there will be romance between Panji and Candrakirana. "Basically, its central theme is love, that the power of love can bring everything together, but it is framed with feminism," Yudiaryani said.


The King of Bali Candrakirana opera will take place at Societet Closed Art building at the Yogyakarta Cultural Center at Jl. Sriwedani on June 19 and 20 with ticket prices ranging from Rp 15,000 to Rp 50,000.

A dress rehearsal of the opera will take place on June 18 with tickets priced at Rp 5,000.