Schubert’s unfinished Shakuntala completed in faraway Kolkata

The opera was originally composed by the maestro around 1820

Published - October 07, 2018 12:32 am IST - Kolkata

The performance at the Kala Mandir in Kolkata.

The performance at the Kala Mandir in Kolkata.

In what can be called a spectacle, Franz Schubert’s vision of a vibrant rendition of the popular Indian text, Shakuntala, finally saw the light of the day at Kala Mandir in Kolkata on Thursday.

Originally composed by maestro Franz Schubert around 1820, the opera - almost 200 years later – was completed by Professor Wirth performing in classical Sanskrit poet Kalidas’ country.

Prof Wirth co-founded the Mozart Choir of India with sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar to promote Western classical music among young boys and girls here. The idea for Shakuntala-the Opera was conceived during one of their discussions and Prof. Wirth decided to keep working towards the fulfilment of this dream when Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away without seeing its completion.

When the Austrian Ambassador to India, Brigitte Öppinger-Walchshofer, interacted with Prof. Wirth in Vienna last year, a quick exchange of thoughts on the opera set the wheels turning.

The ensemble

Prof. Wirth tried, “to uphold the simplicity of Schubert’s style without compromising on his sentiments regarding a cultural fusion through music.”

“Such a project has never taken place in India where a national art form, performed by the ever-so-vibrant Shovana Narayan, has been included. To bring together singers from Shillong and musicians from Vienna has always been my dream and today, it is the reality,” said Prof. Wirth.

As the curtains rose, the view was nothing short of an ethereal teleportation to a concert hall in Vienna or Eisenstadt. With Prof. Wirth conductor of the orchestra at the centre, the performance began with episodic overlapping of the narrator’s voice, taking one through the course of the story of Shakuntala.

Kathak danseuse Shovana Narayan took the stage by storm, calmly yet surely fulfilling her role as the interpreter. Her expressions and gestures, be it the scene where Shakuntala loses her ring in the river or her morbid disposition when King Dushyanta refuses to acknowledge her, miraculously transformed themselves from a few German words to a picturesque narrative of the popular Indian myth through her dance.

“We loved our stay in India and will always remember this experience,” chimed in Paul Kusen and Roland Schoenhuber, instrumentalists from the Austrian orchestra.

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