A Greek myth in the Indian context

A Greek myth in the Indian context


A Greek myth in the Indian context

Transposed in the Indian scenario, the Baroque opera ‘Orfeo - Crossing the Ganges’, narrated the Greek myth of Orpheus by incorporating Indian sensibilities of classical dance and music.

Baroque - the music popular in Europe between 1600 and 1750 came to Delhi, probably for the first time, with this opera. Helmed by stage director François Rancillac and music director Françoise Lasserre, Orfeo was co-produced by The Neemrana Music Foundation and Akadêmia (a French ensemble founded by Lasserre with the aim of recreating key vocal and instrumental pieces of the 17th and 18th centuries).

It was one-of-its-kind experience to hear instruments - the viola de gamba, theorbo, organ, harpsichord, lirone and archlute among many others, which had been brought from as far as Greece and Australia to blend the right notes with the theatrics of performance. But this is common in a French opera. The uncommon, however, was the inclusion of the Indian musicians who played the sarangi, shehnai, pakhawaj, tabla and tanpura.
A faint sound of ghungroos approaching the stage triggered the Indian musicians to play sonorous notes on their instruments. It is to these that Arushi Mudgal, Odissi dancer performed a solo piece. While one kept admiring this beauty dressed in red, her mirror image projected at the back of the stage was both aesthetic and intriguing. “We tried to show that Arushi as Orfeo’s nightmare. When he goes on the stage and takes Arushi in his arms, he is trying to embrace India,” explains the director François Rancillac.

The dancer, however, pushes him away and thus the performance gains momentum. To introduce Orfeo, the musical director Françoise Lasserre directs her troupe of musicians who play the instruments in sync with the operatic voices of Orfeo and the Sheperds who make merry till the news of Euridice’s death is brought to them. While the spring is depicted on stage with the use of red colour, the same becomes symbolic of death later!

“While we have used red for love and death, white is the colour of paradise and a hint of black is used for Sylvia (who brings the news of Euridice’s death),” shares the director for whom it wasn’t too challenging to accomplish the task. The audience could relate to the concept but few could not decipher the relevance of the Indian dancer in the opera.

Unlike the Greek myth, here Orfeo travels to India and falls in love with the dancer Euridice, whom he kidnaps and marries, thereby enraging the god Shiva to whose service Euridice is consecrated. When Euridice is fatally bitten by the cobra around Shiva’s neck, Orfeo embarks on his doomed pursuit, not to the Underworld but to a forbidden temple. 

Certain scenes where Euridice (dressed in white) is draped with metres of red cloth and Orfeo sitting smilingly with candles around him create the required imaginary effect. With these, the melange of beauty of Indian classical dance and Western soprano and bass was quite unusual. But the two were intelligently infused in separating sections until the climax when both Indian and Western instruments  are played in fusion for a brief moment.