A Child’s Play

Indian and British performers come together to create a chamber opera about child prostitutes and boy soldiers

Nelson Fernandez says that he has before him a pile of jigsaw pieces, from which to construct a complete, beautiful picture. The creative director of the Edinburgh International Festival and international producer of the London-based Opera Circus, Fernandez is creating a contemporary chamber opera piece called Naciketa, which will feature some top Indian and British names. His jigsaw pile is made up of artistes from two continents, music compositions and a storyline that goes back to the Upanishads.

Fernandez has been a frequent flyer to India since January to choose artistes for the opera, and his latest trip was to Chandigarh a few weeks ago to meet theatre director Neelam Man Singh Chowdhary. "Neelam recently conducted intense workshops with the singer-actors of the Opera Circus in London, and will direct Naciketa,'' he says. "Naciketa needed the vision of an Indian artiste, and a woman can bring something special on the table, a different sensibility and approach,'' says Fernandez. Sumant Jayakrishnan, an Indian set, lighting and costume designer, will conceptualise the design of the production. The opera will premier in India in November 2013.

Chilean-American novelist-playwright Ariel Dorfman, whose works include the award-winning play Death and the Maiden — also the subject of a Roman Polanski film — uses an Upanishad story to create three narratives — about a child prostitute in India, a boy soldier in Africa and the children of the disappeared in South America (specifically Chile). "The libretto is inspired by real life events, woven into a story in the Upanishads," explains Fernandez.

Matching the libretto is music by British composer Nigel Osborne, who serves as Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh. "Nigel has been studying Indian music for 45 years and reads Urdu too, so the music will contain these influences,'' says Fernandez. He also informs that the musical ensemble of the chamber opera will have Western classical instruments as well as dhrupad singers on stage.

He adds that music, in fact, is one the protagonists, returning to the story of Naciketa's journey into infinity at the end. "The idea of the text came to Dorfman when he was talking to a colleague from Chennai who is professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Duke's University and whose son is called Naciketa. That was the beginning of his journey in writing the libretto,'' says Fernandez.

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