Opera Ular Putih (The Opera of the White Snake Legend) is the 138th production of Teater Koma, one of the most renowned theater groups in the country, founded in 1977. It runs from 3 April 2015 to 19 April 2015, 7:30 PM every Tuesday to Friday, and 1:30 PM every Sunday in Graha Bhakti Budaya, Jakarta.
Producing a Chinese folklore by means of Indonesian culture and provincial idiosyncracies is the task taken by Teater Koma in Opera Ular Putih, an adaptation of the 6th century Tang dynasty fiction the Legend of the White Snake, with three months of rehearsal and preparation.
Last performed by the same theater group 20 years ago at the same vicinity, Graha Bhakti Budaya, Jakarta, this time they decided to make an exquisite opera that signifies several sets of ethnical identities that constitute the diversity of Indonesian culture.
The instruments that occupy a narrow space between the performing stage and front row consists of Javanese metal percussions piano, and violin, a lead instrument in Betawi-style music—influenced for centuries by Western musical elements, so to speak—all of which is used to accompany the moment of spectacles in the four-hour long show, such as the appearance of puppet master bringing his vernacular-style monologue, or the giant puppets commonly seen in local carnivals.
At both ends, there were traditional Asian drum that rises the intensity of the epic scenes on one side, especially when the dragon dance takes the center stage, while the Chinese string instruments of Guzheng and Erhu enhances the Asian-style romance on the other side. Together, these musical lineups have created a harmonic arrangement in each piece. Perhaps the uniqueness in this opera can hardly be achieved in, for instance, an orchestra.
Chinese opera, in this case referring to the Qing dynasty stage performance style, has a considerable presence in Opera Ular Putih. Leading female actors demonstrated high-pitch vocals, narrow steps and typical feminine body gesture akin to the 17th century China ruled by Qing dynasty. But the main role for male Han Bun, played by two actors Ade Firman Hakim and Dodi Gustaman, don the typical clothing of pre-Qing dynasty ruling era. There is a confusion in the way of finding a consistency in terms of mainland Chinese culture to be inserted in Opera Ular Putih. But this is pardoned because the idea is to exhibit authentic Chinese nuance to Indonesian audience, a well-delivered purpose. Moreover, the overriding objective, practically speaking, is to stage a Chinese-origin play in a unique version that has never been seen elsewhere but Indonesia, as admitted by the directors, led by the head producer N. Riantiarno.
Not only in music arrangement, this opera also ostentate acculturation in costumes. Unlike the previous play in 1994, where the actors wore long oriental dress and moti, now the lead sisterhood protagonists, the White Snake demon Tinio, played by Tuti Hartati, and the Green Snake demon Xiao Qing, played by Andhini Puteri, wear Betawi group traditional dress known as Kebaya Encim, long known to have a resemblance to overseas Chinese female costume of the 19th century.
The Legend of White Snake, whose script was told to appear for the first time in the region in the 19th century, brought by the Chinese immigrants to Indonesia, usurps the topic of feminism at a time where such term barely existed. Unlike the portrayals of women as a lower group of gender, thus weak and obedient in the society all around the world, the tale gives the limelight to a woman who proudly bears the consequences of her own freewill.