OPERA: "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" Debut in NY
- Rushdie Fable of Free Speech Makes NY Opera Debut
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Based on a book that Salman Rushdie wrote while
he was still under threat of death, the new opera "Haroun and the Sea
of Stories" is a fable about free speech that its creators say speaks
straight to the post-Sept. 11 world.
The opera which premiered this week in New York is about 11-year-old
Haroun and his father Rashid, a story-teller whose stories run dry
when his wife leaves him and his son asks the question "What's the
use of stories that aren't even true?"
Rushdie started writing "Haroun..." in 1989, just after Iran's
Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or decree, instructing Muslims
to kill the author because of his book "The Satanic Verses," which
Iran's clerics deemed blasphemous.
"Before, for most of us, the threats that underlie the book were
abstract," composer Charles Wuorinen says. "All of a sudden, we were
brought into direct confrontation with the same enemy that Salman had
had all these years."
Wuorinen decided to make an opera out of Rushdie's most accessible
novel a decade ago. Completed in 2001, the show was delayed by
financial problems after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"During the time it has taken to write first the novel and then the
opera, and to bring it to the stage, the world in which it was
written has markedly changed," says James Fenton, the British poet
who adapted the book for the libretto.
The story pits Haroun against the villain Khattam-Shud who rules over
a silent land and tries to poison the Sea of Stories. "Inside every
single story there lies a world, a story world, that I cannot rule at
all," the tyrant sings.
PLENTIMAW FISH IN THE SEA
In the book Haroun makes a fantastic journey to the moon of Kahani,
he finds the Great Story Sea populated by Plentimaw fish, a water
genie who can turn on and off the tap of stories, and a princess
whose singing is so terrible that her people hesitate to rescue her
at the crucial moment.
The wildly colorful costumes and surreal projections that take the
place of scenery give the opera a cinematic feel, as does the pace of
the action, with 17 scenes in the first act.
Some critics marked down the music as overly complex, but the witty
dialogue drew frequent laughs and wit also permeates the score --
when Haroun and his sidekicks ride to the rescue we hear a few bars
of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."
"I've been told there were a number of children who not only managed
to survive the first act which is quite long but came back for more
and were delighted by it," Wuorinen told Reuters.
Rushdie said it was not the first time he had seen "Haroun..." on
stage -- it has been a play in London and produced in a puppet
version in Europe.
"There's an animation feature in the works," Rushdie told
Reuters. "I'm just happy that this book seems to make people want to
do things with it."