Tuesday 2015-02-10

Over the weekend, I got a chance to watch Opera Puteri Saadong at Penang PAC. The work is a fairly straightforward retelling of the Puteri Saadong myth/story.

The production lightened the heaviness of the material with the over-the-top acting and under-voiced singing of the Siamese king. And, intentional or not, the physical humor of the maids wrestling with Saadong's difficult-to-assemble headgear provided much needed respite from the downward spiral.

The production also layers a discussion of faith and art onto the original work. The opera is set in the muslim state of Kelantan in the 1600s, and the actors are dressed in period Kelantanese / Siamese garb. However, back then, devout females did not wear tudongs. So the devout muslim actors had a choice of either depicting a devout muslim of the period (glitzy garb with no tudong), or a devout muslim of today (glitzy garb with a tudong).

To add fuel to the fire, at the end of the film, all the female choristers donned a veil to mourn the death of Raja Abdullah. However for those wearing a tudong, it appeared that they were already veiled, and hence already in mourning.

Finally, the production featured a wall of animation with super-titles, which pushed up the number of elements moving on stage. At any given point, there's a lot to work with on stage. This higher cognitive load opera seems to be a win.