Rehearsal for Opera Gandari last week. (JG Photo/Diana Mariska)

Opera Gandari Turns Princess Villain Upside Down


DECEMBER 14, 2019

Jakarta. Taking its inspiration from the classic tale of Princess Gandari from the epic Mahabharata, Opera Gandari played for two nights on Dec. 14-15 at Graha Bakti Budaya in Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta.

The opera comprised four acts and told the story of Gandari, the mother of 100 children (99 sons and one daughter) called the Kurawa, the villains of the famous Hindu epic.

In the classic story, Gandari is the reincarnation of Mati, the goddess of wisdom who in her human form is married to the blind crown prince of Hastinapura, Destarata.

Destarata could not become king because of his blindness so Princess Gandari in sympathy swears to blindfold herself during the day as long as they are married. Her oath is seen as the ultimate example of loyalty.

Director Melati Suryodarmo, a famous performance artist often said to be Indonesia's own Marina Abramović, said the 60-minute show gave the audience a chance to revisit the Gandari character not as a princess villain but as a woman and a mother struggling to accept her fate.

Melati said the opera was based on a poem by Goenawan Mohamad.

Goenawan's poem tells the story of Gandari from a revisionist perspective, refusing to see the princess as an out-and-out villain, as she is often described in wayang (shadow puppet) stories. 

Goenawan instead highlights Gandari's willingness to sacrifice her own happiness and her commitment to see through life's sufferings. 

Opera Gandari focused on the princess's grief after she lost all 100 of her children in the Bharatayudha war, the Hindu myths' equivalent of the Trojan War. 

The play was light on dialogue. Most of the actions were interpreted into music by a 25-piece mixed ensemble conducted by Peter Veale from Germany's Musikfabrik and an elaborate light show by Joonas Tikkanen from Finland. 

The show was produced by the contemporary-minded Rumah Musik Indonesia Foundation. Founder Tony Prabowo said he wanted to create a new context in which to see cultural tradition and heritage so its value and philosophy can be accepted by modern audience. 

Director and producer Jay Subiyakto designed the stage for Opera Gandari. 

Legendary actress Christine Hakim played the role of the narrator. Soprano Benadeta Astari was the solo vocalist for the impressive Batavia Madrigal Singers choir.