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Sakuntala: A global amalgam

Published : Mar 15, 2016, 6:29 am IST
Updated : Mar 15, 2016, 6:29 am IST

The show was an artistic tour de force, and one of the best Bangkok has witnessed.

Scenes from the production.
 Scenes from the production.

The show was an artistic tour de force, and one of the best Bangkok has witnessed.

It was the most talked-about show in the city-and with justifiable reason.

How often do you see an Indian legend being performed as a Western opera, with Schubert’s music, German soprano, Swedish tenor, Australian bass singer, a large Thai cast, not to forget a Bharatanatyam dancer from Madras, and music conductor from Sri Lanka

The lyrics, texts, and sub-titles were in three languages-English, German, Thai, topped off with recitations in Sanskrit. The production dipped into German composer Schubert’s unfinished opera of Sakuntala, and Thai King Rama VI’s translation of the Indian legend into Thai.

Thus, we had German libretto, Indian Bharatnatyam, Thai Khon dance all playing side by side, in this arresting production. Well-known Indian dancer Dr Janaki Natarajan’s abhinaya blended impeccably with the Western classical notations, and her Nritta wove well with the Thai Khon dancer’s movements.

All the other individual artistes, top-notch opera singers from various countries, not to forget the talented Thai performers, contributed to the unique and outstanding production.

It was an artistic tour de force, and one of the best the city has witnessed.

More important was the fact that the production was conceived by a fledgling opera group, Nuni Productions, led by two dynamic founder-directors, Saran Suebsantiwongse and Pattarasuda Anumon Rajadhon. They studied music and drama respectively in London, and are currently teaching the subjects at a top University in Bangkok. In fact, most of the Chorus singers in the opera, came from this University.

The two of them dreamt of this project when they lived in Chennai-Pattarasuda, to learn Bharatanatyam, Saran, to learn Sanskrit. Infact, he lived at a remote village in the

Mayiladhuturai district, to totally get into the Vedic chants, and seep into Hindu culture. The Ganesha sloka he sang, at the start of Sakuntala, was ample proof of his mastery, as well as his enactment of the role of Sage Durvasa.

“Sakuntala is in many ways the culmination of my musical, cultural, and spiritual interests,” said Saran.

All the costumes were painstakingly stitched in Chennai, and the production was in many ways, an ode to Chennai’s handloom cottons, silks and exquisite temple jewellery.

There were Thai costumes and mellifluous Thai vocal singing too. Sage Kanva was played by Australian singer Damon Whiteley who has partaken in many big opera productions in Bangkok. With his long,white locks and robes, he said Sakuntala was “exciting and challenging.”

Dushyanth was played by John Haque, an Indian settled in Sweden, who described his musical romp with Sakuntala as “my own Bollywood ‘take’ on Dharmendra and Hema Malini, the eternal love-couple!”

The opera-voice of Sakuntala was well-known Laura Incko from Munich, while the Music Conductor was talented Germany-based Srilankan Conductor Leslie Suganandarajah.

The orchestra was none other than the premier Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (BSO), who have performed with the top Conductors of the world in their well-known ‘Great Masters’ series. Even so, president of the BSO Atchara Tejaibul, stated that this was a unique and special experience for them.

Newly arrived Indian Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Bhagwant Bishnoi said he was proud of the wide reach of Sakuntala that had brought together East-West cultural forms, in this magnificent production.

Meanwhile, the Thai Directors of the production said it would be a dream comes true for them if Sakuntala could be staged in India, to Indian audiences.

With their cast of thirty, plus an orchestra of thirty, this would be a large production to travel.

But it is well worth considering — after all, the opera production shows the wide global reach and contemporary value of one of our most ancient Indian legends.

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