WAYANG ESTHER: A JAVANESE PURIMSPIEL
ESTHER premiered in 2001 at HERE Performing Arts Center in New York, with small gamelan group and chorus, and four dhalang (shadow puppeteers) led by Joko Susilo and Barbara Pollitt. Subsequently it has been shown as a short 20 minute one-puppeteer wayang kulit shadow play. The composer's ongoing project is to edit and make available a DVD from the documentation of the Here performance, and to produce a CD of the music.
Esther, of course, recounts the biblical Book of Esther, basis of the Jewish holiday Purim. One year while attending a reading of the megillah (scroll or book of Esther), I was struck by how similarly the story was to a traditional Javanese wayang kulit play, and how the characters matched so easily to the character types of the wayang. I was inspired to set the megillah as a wayang, with as much music as possible.
That particular reading took place during the year of the troubles in Bosnia, and soon after that time hostilities once more erupted between Israel and its neighbors. These influenced my interpretation, and made me rethink those troublesome issues in the Esther story itself. Genocide is of course reprehensible in any era. But my personal feeling is that similar methods in response are little better, and ethical standards of biblical times do not sit so easily in the modern century. The play asks, and I ask: must we carry old wars in our hearts forever?
Wayang Esther falls somewhere between music theatre and opera, alternately sung and spoken, as happens in traditional central Javanese wayang (shadow puppet theatre) form, but in English. The chamber performing group consisted of a six person gamelan and a four person vocal ensemble: Phyllis Clark, soprano; Jody Kruskal, baritone; Yanni Amouris, tenor; Cliff Townsend, bass-baritone, with chorus: Lisa Karrer, Barbara Benary and the soloists.
Hear excerpts from Esther