A traditional Indonesian tragedy is reworked into a visually stunning musical in Opera Jawa. Setio and Siti are an arty couple whose marriage is tested by jealousy and the lust of Ludiro, who's after Siti. Meanwhile Ludiro is also bullying local business owners. Old-fashioned dance moves combine with edgy modern routines and stunning costumes, but the lyrics of the songs seem to lose something the translation.
Opera Jawa is certainly a feast for the eyes: the carefully-lit set is often graced with elegant sculptures and props. The more surreal segments have a conceptual feel: later scenes cut to strange wax hanging corpses - symbolic no doubt, but also staged like a Turner Prize exhibit. The score is equally out-there, often using clashing sounds to communicate discord.
"WATCH OUT FOR A STAGGERING SEDUCTION SCENE"
As the title suggest, this is more opera than musical: characters always sing and never speak (although they occasionally shriek). While the choreography is stunning (watch out for a staggering seduction scene), the need to read subtitles of the poetic lyrics is a distraction. Perhaps this is an inevitable drawback to watching an opera in a foreign language, but the unfamiliar tones and references are likely to make this even more of a challenge to Western audiences reared on Italian opera. Those after an eye-opening cultural experience, however, will be well served by Opera Jawa. It's certainly different.
Opera Jawa is out in the UK on 7th September 2007.