The Rhinocerotidae: A Multimedia Eco-Opera Installation … by Indija Mahjoeddin
Prelude: (Voice: Narrator) A lyrical animation tells the confabulated legend of a prehistoric bond between whales and rhinoceros in which, as the rhino believe, their woolly ancestors adrift on an ice floe were enculturated to the songs of the sea by a pod of whales who guided them safely to land in the tropical zone. Rearing their progeny from a magic pool of tears, the ancient odd-toed ungulates carried this song like ariadne’s thread deep into the hinterland for 60,000 years before settlement came to sever the strands of its vibrational web, isolating each to pace over and over the fragmented pathways of an unsolvable puzzle.
Part 2: Le Chateau Vert (Habitat Surveillance) Where the gulf of perception is countered by interspecies insights, voices of human and rhino, the ‘I’ and the ‘Other’, intertwine.
The yearnings of an aging reclusive Rhino Diva, roams the ancient halls and chambers of her rainforest manor, dreaming of a lover, recoiling deeper into her twilight sanctum as a violent demolition breaches the extremities of her estate. But at the jungles heart another incursion probes her pristine seclusion – a steampunk device spies, records, locates, serving both to protect and betray.
The Rhino Diva, The Researcher, Other Human Voices
A manor house where jungle foliage, liana vines and fauna form the acoutrements and fittings of the chateau, layers of drapes encase the interior in a dim twilight, here and there a live snake lamp, a toroise footstool, occasionally a shimmer of tigerstripe ripples through the veiled background, chaise-longe with a prehensile nose sighs and adjusts its legs, the centrepiece is a cast iron bathtub, full of mud. Rhinini the rhino diva is a baritone in a diva dress, dark glasses and a pompidou hairpaice finishing in a gelled hair curl pointing forward from her brow.
Through the Veil
this verdant scrim
I strain for him
figment of my imagining
sing, my lover, sing
your voice is everything
(nonverbal vocables vowels duet)
and when Im still
and cool in my mudden bath
I dream a spirit-calf
from your seed
sing, sing my lover sing
Room to room
in this vast manor
Room to room
I wander in this palace,
pied in dapple shade
…(roaming and browsing)
And Ghosts of yore
I hear your mother-songs
well up from the long trod paths I roam
…(roaming and browsing)
Rooms of verdant banquets
Sweet bouquet garni
Hallowed halls bedecked with forest fruits
A feast for all
and only I
besides the small things and the elephants
Only I (catches sight of herself)
shining back from the mirror glass of a padi herons eye
hoh! (silence. Beat., as she peers at her visage.)
Is there a match for me in all the firmaments?
(roaming and small things jump and slither round )
when my search draws near
to the farthest reaches
(draws back the last drape cringes away) hoh!
the violent wound, a gruesome gash upon the sacred place
(draws the curtain back in place and peers through it)
Can it end here
where the cancer creeps
the path abrupt, disrupted here
nearer and nearer
ugh how can i reach my Abelard across the barren moon
beyond this wrecked and wretched wound
Dicero Dicero Dicero (drawing the drapes closed layer upon layer
music accompanies the finding of the last dry scat which she is seen to put in a box.)
They are watching me.. Orbs shine in the night glimmer like glow worms silent. They do not wail like the animals who snatch our trees away, these lie in wait turn as I turn and flash like explosions of sunlight in the dark,
(She returns to her Bathtub-wallow)
(develop: Voices of interested humans overlay, intercept, debate the ethics of technological intervention as benign espionage; Electronic signals sign a new kind of frontier, disturbing, ambiguous, seductive. The Rhino Diva knows she is being watched, and watches back; Biped and odd-toed ungulate negotiate the privilege and travesty of crossing the boundary of wildness; Researchers rangers, patrollers attempt to balance the irony and rigours of ecological documentation with their ‘awe, tremendum et fascinans’. But when loggers lay waste to her habitat and poachers hold her in their sights, the rhino’s own fascination turns to outrage drawing her inexorably toward the world.
PART 3 The Red Door (The remedy – a la Oriental FILM NOIR )
Key Voiced Characters:
(saxophone or trombone player) MAN IN A SUIT (Diplomat/gangster/busker),
(Tenor) THE LOVER
(Baritone/contralto?) SASSY RHINO
soprano TROPHY HUNTER 1
contralto TROPHY HUNTER 2
(doubled) THE SPRUIKER
(silent/) THE APOTHECARIST/DOCTOR
(implied) ANTIQUARIAN THE BELOVED
Scene 1: A dark narrow lane in an oriental city. Night.
MAN-IN-A-SUIT carrying a trombone case, only his feet lit, slips stealthily through the night under cover of angular shadows in an indiscernable environment.
A buxom feminine rump with a tail (Sassy Cabaret Rhino) sashays momentarily into view and again is subsumed into the black alleys. Caught by a hard key light, the trombone is withdrawn from its case. Under cover of darkness a trombone squeal is heard, augmented by rhino vocal wails. The feet of MAN-IN-A-SUIT reemerge into a red light with purposeful step, trombone case is dripping a trail of black droplets, overhead helicopter sounds, MAN-IN-A-SUIT is hoisted up into the low darkness on a rope, ominously drips continue to drop from the dark above.
Segue Umbrellas open people rush past a newsaper stand, Noir style news headline spi edit: “Old Remedy New Cure – Diplomat claims Permanent Cancer Remission”.
Scene 2 At La Musee (Museum of Art & Living Treasures) –
The LOVER, assistant curator to an ailing Antiquarian, inspects, admires, turns lovingly in his hands a rare, priceless rhino-horn libation cup symbol of longevity, describing its workmanship, its provenance, its material qualities, its beauty (he has promised to fetch it to comfort the patient). His talk turns to beauty, to youth, to ephemeral qualities of eros and to his own anxiety as a declining objet d’art competing with such enduring and hallowed specimens of beauty from their collection, preserved for posterity under conservators glass.He turns to his own love, his agape, and fear of loss as Antiquarian, the beloved, lays consumed by cancerous incursions, trespassers that violate his corporeal integrity, dare to change his form and his identity. Includes direct speech to the Antiquarian but the Antiquarian is never heard to reply. A DOCTOR is visible in the background busy (grinding compounds). LOVER distraught, imparts the doctor’s grim prognosis, pledges to procure the best, whatever it takes.
Scene 3 Vietnamese street scene, hustle bustle of hawkers, bicycle bells, and a mysterious Red Door
– the LOVER is on the hunt, we see snatches of street interactions – a SPRUIKER barks “The last wonder of the Vietnamese world, the last Javan rhino dung, never to be seen again!”and hawking legal paraphernalia for illicit activities describes a grinding dish and pestle to a shopper aka SASSY RHINO Incognito (dark sunglasses) The MAN-IN-A-SUIT as Diplomat is shaking hands with the populace (vote posters) Louts on Bicycles – one under a tree playing music; the other emerges from the Red Door saying to the other)- “you said you wanted a job, get off your lazy sod we’re going on safari – by helicopter!”) and with that are hoisted bikes and all up a rope that just dropped from the sky. The DOCTOR (seen in background of first scene) goes through the Red Door. A Diplomat (MAN-IN-A-SUIT) goes through it too.
Multi-layers are depicted in shadow theatre e.g. in an overlaid thread the Louts on Bycicles, now as Trophy Hunters, climb up over the scene like two stooges bumbling through a jungle, frightening animals away, shooting guns backwards, wounding each other, killing random animals with a ricochet, wreaking havoc, before a hightech blackhawk whizzes silently in does the deed and departs. Onstage SASSY RHINO (singer) dodges a bullet as a helicopter is heard overhead…
Scene 4 Inside the Red Door, a crimson apothecary, its proprietor veiled (themes of ancient vietnamese music), street bustle is muted beyond a screen. MAN-IN-A-SUIT, partially obscured, counts money on a table, apparently opposite an unseen partner, the invisible APOTHECARIST (‘chinee’ slippers visible beneath the drape.) From the trombone case MAN-IN-A-SUIT passes a grisly chunk of horn clung with scarlet flesh.
LOVER enters. Into the hush he pours a flurry of words, emotionally charged. Pleads for a remedy, a magic cure, blubbers, collects himself in the starkly silent response. A negotiation takes place where APOTHECARIST pushes whimsical medicinals through the red curtain without a word. He reads the long scrolls of indications – none suit. Finally the real thing is proffered in an exotic box, LOVER counts out his money, not enough, an altercation, the coins/notes are scattered, the box withdrawn, now he is like an addict fixated on the box. It is refused.
Vignette outside the red door, Night, MAN-IN-A-SUIT is busking his trombone, intercepting a reluctant LOVER, insisting on coinage, they tango, embrace. Kiss, even.
Scene 5 Luxurious interior of the Museum of Art and Living Treasures (La musée).
SASSY RHINO hears helicopter, sings “here come the clowns to take me out tonight … just remember I have a name not just a pretty face”as the stooge Trophy Hunters somersault/bicycle in and play cloak and dagger hunting games (spoof of big game hunters) amongst the displays; SASSY RHINO hides in a diorama, the rhino horn libation cup is hard lit and becomes the trophy of stooge hunt, the whole plinth is hacked down and the thieves escape with the lot, up ropes to a waiting helicopter.
Enter LOVER in tears beside himself, as SASSY RHINO looks on sympathetically (rhino-esque whalesong). LOVER aria: (to Antiquarian as La musee becomes hospice) breaks the ‘theft of prize piece’ news with grief sorrow anguish, uncertain if the beloved is conscious/hearing, but with genuine joy and relief he produces the new prize, the cure – and he turns this medicine box over lovingly in his hands mirroring the first scene. Behind, the APOTHECARIST/revealed as DOCTOR is grinding, there is evidence it is the libation cup under the pestle. DOCTOR aria: Pronouncing that “longevity as a resource of life energy so scarce and finite, a choice must be made. it cannot be shared, like prosperity/ elements/ oil / energy, the great equation of all is binding, as one receives another must surrender” from earnest to increasingly grotesque. Lover lifts back the bedding revealing SASSY RHINO in place of Antiquarian, faceless and bloodied. She refuses the proffered cup staggers to her feet and sings in the vein of a jazz diva “I will Survive” (or something equivalent) “get use to seeing my disfigured face, I will not be the price you pay.to turn your face away from your own demise, i will live even divested of my self, my distinction, my horn, even to live free of the threat of your desire. Just you watch me! The Antiquarian fades into the diorama, the doctor drones on and the Rhino and the Lover waltz in a dance macabre or is it a dance of love and hope…
And the Eco-Opera closes with a short requiem theme for the Kariega three, the Kaziranga four and the eight just killed on November 24 2012 and all the other named
and cared for victims.