A House in Bali is a new opera by Evan Ziporyn with libretto by Paul Schick based on a memoir by Colin McPhee. It traces the roots of the west's century-long infatuation with Bali, through the true story of three westerners - composer Colin McPhee, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and artist Walter Spies - during their 1930s sojourn in Bali. This stunning, multi-media spectacle brings together the finest ensembles of east and west: a 16-piece Balinese gamelan directed by the dynamic Dewa Ketut Alit, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Balinese choreography by the enchanting Kadek Dewi Aryani, wayang shadow puppets, and high-tech projections converge, pushing all boundaries of theatrical innovation.
Composer Colin McPhee, a young Canadian prodigy, heard recordings of Balinese gamelan while studying in Paris in the late 1920s. He became immediately entranced, throwing over a promising career to travel to the island and document what he had heard. His memoir, A HOUSE IN BALI, recounts his sojourn there: a found paradise, a tradition threatened by modernity, the pleasures and agonies of the not-so-innocent abroad.
Eschewing the colonial lifestyle of the capital, McPhee instead built a house in a traditional village, navigating the inscrutable and shifting opinions of the village elders. Once ensconced, he scandalizes the Dutch authorities by befriending the Balinese, and begins his task of documenting a music he considers doomed to extinction. His guides and mentors are two fellow émigrés, each with their own agenda, German-Russian artist Walter Spies, and noted American anthropologist Margaret Mead. McPhee's diligent transcription project is disrupted by the arrival of a ten-year-old peasant boy, Sampih, who McPhee spies swimming in the river by his house. Taken with the boy as he was earlier taken with the culture as a whole, McPhee hires Sampih as a domestic, and soon becomes his artistic sponsor, hiring the finest teachers on the island to train him in the classical dance under McPhee's watchful eye.
As Sampih comes into his own, world events begin to intrude on McPhee's idyll, as the storm clouds of the late 1930s brew. Strange arrivals - Japanese photographers who may or may not be spies, evil spirits in the rice fields - portend the unraveling of McPhee's Balinese dream. Sampih has grown to be a man, and left his mentor behind; Bali has entered the modern world, and McPhee realizes he must leave the island, never to return.
McPhee's memoir is a western travelogue, the perspective of the outsider looking in. Beautifully written, prescient and insightful, it is also highly subjective, with omissions and elisions as suited his literary purpose. He brought Bali to the west, but he also brought the west to Bali, where he is remembered and revered to this day. The Balinese side of the story both complements and collides with McPhee's memoir; our opera thus attempts to present the whole picture. Operatic vocalists will sing side by side with traditional Balinese singers, and western music will alternate and eventually find equilibrium with Balinese gamelan. A HOUSE IN BALI brings together an all-star cast of international talent: Marc Molomot (Opéra National de Lyon), Anne Harley (Boston Lyric Opera, American Repertory Theater), Timur Bekbosunov, Desak Made Suarti Laksmi, Nyoman Triyana Usadhi, Kadek Dewi Aryani (Robert Wilson's I La Galigo, Kobalt Works), Dewa Ketut Alit (Cudamani, Gamelan Galak Tika). Composer Evan Ziporyn's own ensemble, the award winning Bang on a Can All-stars (Musical America 2004 Ensemble of the Year) will perform with the top young musicians of Ubud Village (2005 Bali Arts Festival Champions), under the direction of Dewa Ketut Alit.
As befits this multi-cultural event, A HOUSE IN BALI will premiere in two locations: in Ubud, Bali, a few kilometers from McPhee's actual residence; and in Berkeley, California, as part of the prestigious Cal Performances series. The Bali premiere will take place at the stunning Water Palace Theater, Puri Saraswati, in the center of Ubud. This magical setting - amidst reflecting pools, lily pads, and Balinese temples - a place where McPhee himself often visited, will provide the perfect setting for the premiere of this groundbreaking, multicultural operatic event.
Read more about the HISTORY of Colin McPhee, Walter Spies, and Margaret Mead in Bali.
A House in Bali is made possible by generous support from the NIB Foundation, Alex Rigopulos & Sachi Sato, Liz & Greg Lutz, and Cal Performances. A House in Bali was commissioned by Real Time Opera with support from the LEF Foundation, the Argosy Foundation, The Byrne Foundation, and the NIB Foundation.