Arjuna's Dilemma

Arjuna’s Dilemma – The First Opera Performed in Nepal

Yesterday, 1st of September, 2016, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the audience of a one of its kind musical. I attended Arjuna’s Dilemma, an Epic Fusion Opera that took place in Patan Museum. It is the first opera to be ever performed in Nepal. The evening was one of the best 70 minutes I have spent to date.

Organised by One World Theatre, Arjuna’s Dilemma is a contemporary “fusion opera” based on the epic, The Bhagavad Gita, from the Mahabharata. It is composed by the American Classical/Jazz composer –  Douglas J. Cuomo who writes for the operatic stage and Hollywood and tours as a jazz guitarist. It was a rare treat to the ears and eyes, the beautiful way in which the music was melded with the performance.

The show began with an introduction from Kavita Srinivasan in English and from Suren Shakya in Newari as well. The inauguration was in the eastern style, by lighting the inaugurating lamp by Rensje Teerink, Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Nepal. The stage had the perfect setting that displayed the Arjuna’s chariot with bamboos, the front part acting as the Kurukshetra and the musicians and opera singers placed carefully in the backdrop. The flawlessness outright displayed the hard work put into it. Too bad we weren’t allowed to take any pictures.

The performance was done in three languages: Nepali, Sanskrit, and English. It didn’t take longer than a second after the show actually started for the audience to fall into a quiet trance. Quite a huge feat to achieve when there are Nepali audiences, isn’t it? The opening notes were an alap, the music developed slowly into a raga. The beautiful notes of “Madhusudan” hung in the air and I can still vividly recollect the sound of it.  The western and eastern classical music blended so smoothly that a spectator couldn’t discern if there was a blend in the mix. The slow unfolding of the premise, the gradual build up and the strong closing were all so organic and convincing that you were left there perplexed for a few minutes after the end.

There were quite a few familiar faces present in the performing group. Being an avid fan of PS Zindagi, I noticed the entire cast of the online sitcom except Kokab (maybe she’s in NASA). Rajkumar Pudasaini did justice to his portrayal of Lord Krishna. The role of Arjuna played by Salil Subedi was intricately complete, the emotions beautifully portrayed.

The first opera show in the country and such a high benchmark have they set for the upcoming ones (if any, hopefully). Roy Stevens, who was the voice of Arjuna, sang entirely in Sanskrit. Sanskrit words coming from an American man, and it needed no deciphering. The power in his intonation and the catching of minute details of emotion jointly created an unmistakable aura around the place whenever his voice was in charge. The fluency with which the opera mingled with the music from the tabla and harmonium was splendid. With none overpowering the other and everything staying in harmony. Annalisa Winberg had a powerful presence leading the group of opera singers, yet with a delicate touch feminine softness.

Something I could just not get enough of was the saxophone. Inap Raj Shrestha came in and allegedly stole the show for the few moments of his solo. It was my first time of hearing a saxophone play notes so vibrant. I have heard a lot in music CDs, of course, but never before live. It was an evening of firsts with watching a ballet dancer perform live for the first time, as well. Her grace was pure splendor, especially during the latter parts, maybe, where she rolled down the bamboo stairs with utmost grace and elegance. (I’m really sorry, I was so engrossed I didn’t really have a good grasp of time).

Now I’m no veteran or critic of music, but I know what’s good when I see it. But having studied in an Anglo-Indian Christian school, choirs were a daily routine. Moreover, I was in the Soprano (a bad one at that). Therefore I can’t help but feel awe to the amount of work they put in to get the music flowing freely. The lights, oh yes, the lights played a huge role in creating that aura in the show. Also, the butterflies and moths that were flying over head unconsciously helped in setting the ambience. They glowed with the lights, looking like flecks of blue and red scattering from the war front.

Arjuna’s Dilemma, in its entirety, is not something my frugal words can explain. It is powerful, beautiful and so splendid that I was left perplexed after the show. It makes you think in ways your mind never wandered. I was so blank that even saying Thank you to those who invited me seemed such a petty thing to do, for I really could not pay back the favor they had done for me. A bigger favor was when I was given photographs of the event (I regretted not being able to take them). The photographs are all courtesy of photographer Eric Vernon. Had it not been for him, this post might have been bland, devoid of photographs entirely.

A show as great as Arjuna’s Dilemma is not something you can see every day. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to miss it at any cost. This article is more of a personal view of what I experienced. For a more detailed information, you can read a post by New Spotlight. Do check out their event on Facebook and make sure you spare those 70 minutes for the show, for what’s lost may never be found again.