The last decade of work has all led up to tomorrow, when opera will be performed for the first time in Bhutan. It all began in 2004, when conductor Aaron Carpene asked if opera had ever been staged in Bhutan. Today, an international cast performed the final Acis and Galatea dress rehearsal, which was open to the public. The 350 seats were almost filled, many by schoolchildren and others by people we have met in our two weeks here and invited to come and see what we’re doing.
The UTEP tour groups drove from Paro to Thimphu this morning for sightseeing in the capital city and to make sure we’re all ready to take our seats in the audience tomorrow. Many of us now own kira and gho that we’ll wear for the performance and again in fall 2014 when some version of Opera Bhutan comes to El Paso.
Because Bhutan’s king and queen will attend the opera (which is being performed on the eve of their second wedding anniversary), protocol dictates that no photos or videos may be taken during the show except by the local Bhutan Broadcasting Service, so we had to get all our photos out of the way today.
It seems a shame that we can’t record this historic, once-in-a-lifetime event for archival purposes. But when I was chatting with Karma Wangchuck, the head of stage construction on the Bhutanese side, last week about what would happen after the opera was over (would the stage stay up or be taken down? Would the speaker and monitor stands be used for some other purpose?), he offered another perspective.
He compared this opera production to the Buddhist tradition of creating a sand mandala. The Buddhist spends days or weeks creating an intricate, colorful sand design. When it is completed, he destroys it, showing that everything in life is transitory.
The Opera Bhutan team has spent years planning, raising money, rehearsing, and building a stage and set for an opera that will be performed only one time. After Saturday, the stage will most likely be deconstructed, the tents taken down and the rental equipment returned. The more than 70 people who made the opera possible will return home to their respective countries and — since we can’t record the final performance — will only have memories to share with others.
During our talk, Karma also said that maybe the most important part of this opera isn’t the opera itself, but the journey to create it. What really matters is the process of putting it together, collaborating with people around the world and forming new relationships, solving problems together and creating something that has taught us all a little bit about each other.
Jenn Crawford is the director of editorial services for UTEP's University Communications Office.