> Dolly Thakore's 'Life in the Theatre'

After a Theatre filled January, for me February started with a drought. Ten days in Singapore and Penang, and I was having withdrawal symptoms….till my Australian niece Sanjna (an inveterate traveler whose bible is Lonely Planet) discovered an 8’x8’ two-tin table Vietnamese Restaurant in quaint Armenian Street .. and I suddenly came alive!

There on the rather makeshift partition wall was stuck a gorgeous poster announcing ‘Vagina Warriors’ in Penang….Sadly the performance announced was ten-days after I left the city. But it resuscitated my faith in the citizens of Penang whose agenda extended beyond tourists, shopping and food.

Weeks before going on my South-East Asia excursion, I had bought myself a ticket for the Symphony Orchestra of India presentation of the Opera ‘Paglicacci’ by Ruggero Leoncavallo and ‘Cavelleria Rusticana’ by Petro Mascagni at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre….a very rare treat for me, and a unique experience.

Firstly, I have never paid that kind of money for a theatre ticket in India, and that too for a seat almost four rows from the back – and in recent memory. I have never never never watched a performance from beyond the first four or five rows from the front!

Though I do recall way back as a student in 1963-64 watching Bharat Natyam dancer-cum-filmstar Vijayantimala dance at the Lady Irwin College Hall in Delhi seated almost in the last row!

I find it very difficult to concentrate and engage with the performance and performers.
Having relied on someone else to get me a seat, my heart sank.when I saw the seat number -- S49 – the very corner seat near the right exit as the last ticket on sale.

The drama began within minutes. The seat had been sold three times.  And much to my embarrassment had to keep moving as directed by the officials-in-charge.The only saving grace was that the lovely Parsee lady who is an opera-passionata greeted me warmly, and offered me her delicate opera glasses to share!
The curtain opened to the most magnificent set of ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ – with elaborate costumes and superb voices – though I am not qualified to comment on that professionally as I heard Jiten Merchant and others discussing tenor tones and lower octaves of the lead singer being afflicted with a soar throat. And juggling between adjusting opera glasses to singers and English subtitles at the very top, and identifying familiar faces from the Paranjyoti Choir and the Stop Gap Chorus group during the ensemble pieces, I certainly missed out a great deal.

Bumping into Sabira Merchant during the 45-miute break before the second opera was a saving grace. She had a spare seat right up in front. So ‘Pagliacci’ was viewed and listened to with rapt attention and great awe…such passion, such gusto, such uninhibited display of emotions – from love to jealousy …with an inheritance like that, one is not surprised at their indefatigable  lovers libido…by the same measure we Indians are judged by the Kama Sutra!!! ALAS. ALAS.

It may not be fair to talk of our own local striving talent  -- after the imported extravagant professional international Italian Opera.  But a surprise call from Wilson College pleading with one to witness their ‘Sound of Music’ with a difference took me to the seldom-used Patkar Hall…now shabby and in disrepair.  But the enthusiasm of the students and performers kept the evening buoyed….such a valiant effort with no professional guidance replete with technical and financial restraints.  In spite of this lacuna, the effort was truly commendable. The voices impressive and one hopes to see and hear Nancy Varghese as Maria, and Anoud Saeed as Liesl in other more professional ventures. Roshan Kokane was certainly not the Captain Von Trapp image, but he impressed with his singing prowess…Sheriar Irani as young Kurt has   comedy timing to watch out for. And Delnaz Divecha who played the five-year-old Gretl showed promise.

The difference from the Raell Padamsee Sound of Music was in the live band I was told.  And impressively so:  Russel Peters on Keyboard, Ian Samuel on Drums; Krysta on Guitar; Allan on saxophone.

There was little lip-sync in the individual numbers. Though Patricia Krysta and Annlin were the vocalists who lent their voices to boost the choral singing.

With encouragement from educational institutions – and much-needed Corporate support-- young  talent will continue to be discovered..  We are hopeful yet!