Monday, July 4, 2016


James Karas
By Maneim Adwan (muisc) and Fady Jomar and Catherine Verlaguet (libretto)
Theâtre de Jeu de Paume, Aix-en-Provence
                                                July 1 to July 17, 2016

Conductor                               Zied Zouari
Director                                  Olivier Letellier
Set Designers                          Eric Charbeau et Philippe Casaban
Costumes                                Nathalie Prats

Kalîla                                      Ranine Chaar
Dimna                                     Moneim Adwan
The King                                 Mohamed Jebali
The Queen Mother                 Reem Talhami
Chatraba                                 Jean Chahid

Violin                                      Zied Zouari
Cello                                       Yassir Bousselam
Clarinet                                   Selahattin Kabaci
Qanun                                     Abdulsamet Çelikel
Percussion                              Wassim Halal

***** (out of 5)

Kalîla wa Dimna is an opera in French and Arabic by Moneim Adwan that was commissioned by the Aix-en-Provence Festival and received its world premiere on July1 2016. Now count how many “firsts” there are in the last sentence.

The “firsts” are irrelevant, of course, and what counts is that this is a delightful opera that tells a compelling story, has wonderful music and receives a splendid production in the tiny Jeu de Paume theatre in Aix directed expertly by Olivier Letellier.
 Kalîla wa Dimna (2016 © Patrick Berger / Artcomart)
The story or series of stories have their roots in India some twenty-four hundred years ago. Fady Jomar and Catherine Verlaguet have based their libretto on an 8th century translation of the stories by the Persian Ibn al-Muqaffa.

In a mythical kingdom, Dimna becomes a counselor of the king and attempts to use the relationship for personal gain. His sister Kalîla senses the dangers of his actions and tries to dissuade him but to no avail.

But there is trouble in the kingdom in the guise of a poet called Chatraba who is very popular with the people and sings to them about their sufferings and injustice. Dimna brings Chatraba to the king and a friendship develops between the two men. Dimna is determined to bring an end to it.

Kalîla and the King’s mother try to warn Chatraba about Dimna’s machinations by telling him the fable of the wolf, the crow, the jackal and the camel.  Dimna lies to the king about Chatraba and in the end the poet is put to death. The King finally opens his eyes and there is a promise of justice. The opera ends as it began with a beautiful song of freedom.

This story is told in Arabic with the beautiful narrative power of Kalîla (Ranine Chaar) and the five characters sing a variety of songs in Arabic. Many of the songs have the flavour of ballads accompanied by the beautiful melodies played by the five musicians. We hear the mellow sound of the clarinet especially in its lower range, the deep sound of the cello, and the rich chords of the violin. There is also a quanun, a stringed instrument related to the zither that produces a wealth of splendid music. 
Kalîla wa Dimna (2016 © Patrick Berger / Artcomart)
Understandably, all the songs and music have an Arabic flavour that is melodic, expressive and splendid. There are long arching phrases, plaintive sounds and angry expressions that the singers, especially Chaar, handle with ease. There is protest – if you kill a poet, he will come back a thousand times – and a push towards justice. If Dimna is guilty of something, he should be arrested and tried rather than summarily executed like Chatraba.

All the characters are dressed in modern clothes. The Queen Mother and Kalîla wear long dresses but the costumes do not suggest anything exotic. The set consists of white stands that are simple and functional.

The production lasts an hour and a half and it is the most delightful ninety minutes to be had almost anywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment