‘Laki-laki Sejati’
: Is there a true man?

Evelyn Merrelita (left) and Indah Pristanti in Laki-laki Sejati. JP/Erza S.T.

What is a true man? Does that kind of man exist in the world? What does it take to be a true man?

These are questions that women have been asking — with men trying to prove themselves worthy — for decades. And muscles, charm, wit and finesse are not enough to make a man a true man. So what does?

The answer can be found in Ananda Sukarlan’s latest pocket comique opera Laki-laki Sejati (A true man).

In an opera of only about 30 minutes duration, Sukarlan introduced his audience to a mother and daughter arguing over the existence of a true man.

The daughter comes with her own idealism, while her mother wisely advises her by using her own life experience. The result was 30 minutes of pure, joyous entertainment that was filled not only with laughs but also with some serious thinking about what makes a true man.

After Sukarlan’s recent premiere of a fantastic piece for piano solo and orchestra, Fons Juventatis, at the CIMB Niaga Opera Gala 2011 in August, the prolific pianist maestro and composer returned to deliver this juicy pocket opera to an Indonesian audience.

Laki-laki Sejati, aside from its short length, was accompanied only by piano. Nevertheless, what seemed to be simple and minimalist in music and staging was balanced nicely with illustrative and colorful melodies as well as fantastic expressive body language from both of the performers: soprano coloratura Evelyn Merrelita (the mother) and mezzosoprano Indah Pristanti (the daughter). Kudos goes to Chendra Panatan who did immaculate work directing the opera.

In a brief tete-a-tete with Sukarlan after the successful premiere last Thursday, he told The Jakarta Post that the planning and thinking about the structure, plus the editing of the original text, were the biggest challenges in creating Laki-laki Sejati. He said he spent more than 3 weeks composing the music for the work.

The way the music drew the audience into the story was impressive. It was quite obvious that Sukarlan also wanted to “anguish” the soprano coloratura’s (Evelyn Merrelita) vocal range to the maximum by giving her a note that reached to F6. Fortunately, Sukarlan’s composition also had great balance so that the audience was not exhausted by Evelyn’s tour de force coloratura voice. Indah Pristanti’s velvety voice was the right combination with Evelyn’s, and together they gave a remarkable and harmonious performance.

The influence of both Rossini and Mozart were evident in this opera, especially when Sukarlan played some of the melody from Mozart’s famous Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) on piano followed by Evelyn vocalizing the highest passage from “Der Holle Rache”, known as “The Queen of the Night” aria. It was a pleasant treat for classical music and opera lovers who love Mozart. Evelyn not only excelled in performing this challenging part, but she did it in an elegant and effortless manner.

Was the use of Mozart intended as Sukarlan’s tribute to the famed composer? “Yes and no. When Evelyn won the Sukarlan Vocal Award this year, she sang that aria and it was just fantastic. So it was a double tribute to Mozart and to her, especially since I couldn’t believe before that an Indonesian singer could sing like that,” Sukarlan said.

Laki-laki Sejati perhaps would not have been that successful if not for the brilliant short story written by Putu Wijaya that the opera was based on. Known as the “Father of Short Stories”, Putu Wijaya’s works have been the inspiration for many Indonesian movies. Now thanks to Sukarlan, one of his stories has been embodied in operatic form as well.

Sukarlan said his collaboration with Putu Wijaya was no coincidence, for he buys Putu Wijaya short story collections every time he is in Jakarta. “To be honest, I was just looking for a story that had 3 characters with 2 females and 1 male that I could dedicate to the winners of the Ananda Sukarlan Vocal Award [Evelyn Merrelita, Indah Pristanti and Adi Nugroho] this year. But I only found a story with two female characters. Luckily it was a comedy and since I really wanted to exploit Evelyn’s coloratura voice to the max, this story seemed to be the perfect one. I want to contribute to Indonesian coloratura literature and what else to exploit a coloratura besides comedy or horror? I chose comedy,” Sukarlan told the Post.

Many audience members who hadn’t seen a complete opera were extremely satisfied with Laki-laki Sejati last Thursday. Audience member Febe Budianto said she was very happy to be able to see an opera that she could understand with a story she could relate to.

Like a great Bordeaux, Ananda Sukarlan’s career as a composer of opera is maturing and solid. And he said he plans to write more. “That’s where my heart is. I want to explore new themes and subjects like horror and thrillers. I think Laki-laki Sejati was hard for me since being ‘funny’ is not in my nature. I am not a funny guy and I even had to investigate what ‘funny’ means! I did learn a lot in writing it, but certainly my next opera won’t be funny,” he said, laughing.

And for those of you who are wondering what makes a true man or if they even exist, definitely go see this show and wait until the end, when the mother finally reveals the answer. Let’s hope Ananda Sukarlan will present this opera again, and soon.

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