The Silent Prince (again)

After my post some time ago about the Temiya Jataka opera staged in Bangkok (read it here), Jak Cholvijarn very kindly sent me the DVD. Unfortunately it arrived when I was in the midst of packing up one house, doing up and moving into another, so I have only just found time to watch it.

It certainly lived up to the reviews! The design and staging were stunning, the performers all excellent, and the story very gripping. It was, however, quite different to the version I know best, that in the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā (JA). As such it got me thinking again about the way stories can be adjusted and reinterpreted to suit the differing needs of their users.

The main difference between the opera version and the JA version is that the former focuses on the silence of the prince, while in the latter there is more concern with his lack of movement. Indeed, in the JA the climactic moment comes when Temiya climbs off the chariot that has been used to take him away for execution, stretches, picks up the chariot and spins it around over his head. This sudden display of strength contrasts with the sixteen years he has spent motionless in the palace. Of course, the focus upon silence works very well in an opera – as I noted in my previous post, the climactic moment there is when Temiya makes his first sound, in the final scene. The adjustment suits the medium very well. However, because the opera also places the prince’s moment of doubt and recollection of past lives much later in his childhood than the JA (in which it is the baby prince who decides to play dumb), the tension does not mount for quite so long. Again this is necessary for the medium, since it is somewhat easier to show a child experiencing doubt and past-life memory than a baby. And I enjoyed the way in which Temiya’s trauma and indecision were communicated, with the lord of the underworld and goddess of illusion singing to him about his past and future, his duty and his path.

Jak Cholvijarn’s portrayal of Temiya was impressive. Silently sitting in meditation while his mother entreated him or courtesans enticed him, or later standing calmly as Sunanda dug his grave or the citizens paid him honour, he truly looked like a Bodhisattva. His parents were also fabulously convincing and emotive, as indeed were the rest of the cast.

Oddly, the only character I couldn’t relate to was Indra/Sakka, and this is in no way a comment on the quality of his performance. After all the research I have been doing into Indra recently I feel I know him quite well, and I am pretty certain he is not a bass! Perhaps I will have to rethink…

I am very grateful to Jak Cholvijarn for providing me with the DVD. I will treasure it.

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About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Buddhist texts, Jataka, Religious narrative and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Silent Prince (again)

  1. Jak says:

    Thank you for the lovely comment Dr. Appleton. Achan Somtow has just informed me that he plans to compose an opera based on Bhuridatta Jataka and would like me to play Bhuridatta. I feel honoured and very much look forward to that.

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