Wagner opera to revive language of Buddha

Wagner Dream promotional image Wagner Dream links Wagner's dying days in Venice with his interest in Buddhism

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An opera written by composer Jonathan Harvey about Richard Wagner is to be partly performed in Pali, the ancient language spoken by Buddha.

Welsh National Opera (WNO) director David Pountney said the ancient Asian language was the most appropriate for the production, titled Wagner Dream.

In the show, a dying Wagner reflects on his own unfinished Buddhist opera.

The original English text for the Buddhist characters has been translated by academics into Pali.

The British composer, who died in 2012, was keen for this to happen to "enhance and clarify the cultural dialogue" of the opera, Pountney said. Wagner's part is sung in German.

"[Wagner Dream] brings together a giant of the Western musical tradition, Richard Wagner, with ideas and narrative elements from the Buddhist tradition," Pountney said.

"We felt that the impact of this cultural dialogue would be enhanced by letting each of these two worlds speak in its own language rather than being confused by both being rendered in a third language, English."

'Amusing challenges'

The Pali parts were translated by Professor Richard Gombrich, president of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, who said the task "brought some amusing challenges".

"In some places we had to split the musical notes in order for them to fit," he explained.

Changes were also made to reflect the fact that pubs and tea - referenced in the English text - did not exist in ancient India.

"I also felt obliged to insert, very briefly, some real Buddhist doctrine when the Buddha himself is speaking," he added.

Wagner Dream will be staged at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, on 6-7 June, with a performance in Birmingham on 12 June.

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