If you happened to be in Berkeley, CA between February 6 and March 10, you might have caught “The Fourth Messenger” a musical animated by the questions: What if the Buddha were a woman? What if she were alive today?
The story, “loosely inspired by the life of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama,” follows a young reporter headed to see the new spiritual leader, known to her followers as Mama Sid, in a quest for an expose on her activities. Spiritual, spell-binding, funny high-jinks ensue – with music.
This one takes on a somewhat darker theme, that of an unfinished Buddhist opera by the great composer Richard Wagner himself. In the story, “Wagner is dying in Venice. He will leave behind some of Western art’s greatest works. But he hasn’t finished his life’s work; he is tormented by his need to write a music drama about the Buddha.”
Wagner Dream, which premiered in 2007, has had the English lines from the Buddhists translated into Pali (one of, if not the first time English has been translated into Pali for the public) by Richard Gombrich, President of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. And, lucky for me, my friend and fellow Pali student Caroline Barker was hired by the Welsh National Opera to help the actors with Pali pronunciation (I hope to have an interview with her about her work and the opera in the coming weeks, and I will be seeing the show in Wales, so I’ll have a review to share not long after that).