KARNA: A SHADOW PUPPET OPERA
KARNA was produced in 1994 at LaMama Theatre Space in New York City. Subsequent shorter excerpts have been performed at various colleges. A video is available from the composer.The LaMama production was co-directed by Barbara Benary and the dhalang (puppeteer) Barbara Pollitt, with a chamber ensemble consisting of six gamelan players and a chorus of five: Jody Kruskal (Karna), soprano Danielle Woerner (all the women), tenor Dennis Delgado and bass David Olsen. Assisting were puppeteer Lyra Silverstein and baritone/manager Robert Laconi.
Karna is a character from the Indian and Indonesian epic Mahabharata. He is an anti-hero, born to Kunti, mother of the five Pandava brothers who are the heros of the epic. However as he is illegitimate, he is outcast and adopted by a low-caste charioteer. His feats of arms endear him to Duryodhana, leader of the faction of royal cousins who are enemies of the Pandavas. He allies himself with those princes in the great war which is the climax of the epic. Learning he is by rights the eldest brother of the Pandavas, he later refuses to change sides in the war, valuing loyalty above all things. He is ultimately killed by one of his brothers.
Karna is a two-hour long adaptation of traditional Javanese wayang kulit, in English language. The screen is set shadow-side to the audience. The puppets enact the story primarily in mime (save for the clown scenes by the dhalang) while the story and conversation are sung by the vocal ensemble situated along with the instrumentalists on the audience side.
Hear excerpts from Karna