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Anklung + Anna Bolena

Books + Ideas — October 2013

Due to flooding in the music faculty, my (Javanese) gamelan group wasn't able to rehearse last week. So we met at our leader Pete's place instead, where it turns out he keeps an entire Balinese gamelan anklung in the loft. And this week my sister took me to the opera as a birthday present, to a production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena by the Welsh National Opera.

I had heard Balinese gamelan before - and my Sydney gamelan group shares a space with one - but never tried playing one, so that was really interesting. (I'm very slow learning the interlocking kotekan parts, compared to the more musically adept members of the group.) That's inspired me to watch the Attenborough-narrated documentary The Miracle of Bali: Recital of Music and to read a book I bought ages ago, Michael Tenzer's Balinese Music.

And it must be more than five years since I've been to an opera performance. One can kind of see why Anna Bolena isn't in the top tier of the canon: weak lyrics are one thing, but in some places the plot lacks even the skeletal dramatic tension needed to frame the encounters between the soloists. But it still has some gorgeous music and singing. Visually it was a pretty sombre production, with black stage and backgrounds and the cast wearing black as well, except for Anna at the end.


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