Review by Olivia Ruggiero
The new opera Gayatri: The Royal Queen Consort of the Majapahit Kingdom, is a story of succession, war, family, deceit, and a whole lot of regicide. Normally themes that make for a fantastic opera – but it is debatable whether this production, part of Melbourne Fringe’s digital season is truly an opera. An opera is normally a work that relies heavily on music to tell the story and singers take on the dramatic/leading roles. Whilst there is music in this production, and singing, it, in my opinion is more of a dance piece, with spoken word and vocalising that adds to the overall effect of the story but does not so much define it.
Digital theatre is certainly a new concept and quite polarising when working on something that is so steeped in tradition as is this production. Gayatri is based on an old Indonesian text, which is presumably where the spoken word comes from. Unfortunately, the lack of automatic subtitles makes it difficult to understand the work and the CC English captions are not quite succinct or accurate enough to provide a coherent understanding of the text. The spoken voice though depicts a chanting, reflective of prayer, which is very much the style in which the text is written – or at least that is what the translation makes it out to be. The vocalising on the soundtrack, which is certainly pre-recorded, and not typical of opera at all is also incredible chant like. The tone suits the overall style of the piece. The sorrow and emotion of the spoken voice is often not effectively communicated in the acting that takes place on screen though. This is particularly noticeable in the scene where the first act of regicide is committed. That being, the murder of the King and Queen, and the parents of Gayatri. The devastation of the family “laid to waste” would surely warrant far more of a physical reaction from Gayatri, at the gut-wrenching way in which her family is murdered and thus torn apart.
The ritualistic movements and choreography suit the story and style of the music – it is simple and effective in the opening sequence, authentic to the production and era it is set in. In the second scene the dancers are a little less cohesive and under energised, but this picks up through the rest of the production. These elements are complimented by the costuming and makeup. Gayatri is painted to be golden and almost doll-like, highlighting her as the pinnacle focus of the piece. This is also aided by the digitalisation of the work – the monochromatic colour scheme at the start allows Gayatri to be even more of the focus as she is the only one in colour – striking yellow and gold. The digitalisation also allows you to appreciate the detailing of the costuming that would normally not be seen from stage.
Altogether this is certainly an engaging new work of theatre, incredibly reverent in its production and culturally significant. It’s production value and design are certainly high for a fringe work, which gives hope that this piece of theatre will have a life outside fringe. Whilst there are elements that could certainly be worked to be more accessible to a wider audience it is genuinely enjoyable and worth watching should you have the chance.