Ramanujan (1998)Opera in five acts
Music and Text: Sandeep Bhagwati
Musical Director: Mathis Dulack
Director and Stage Designer: Johannes Schütz
Costume Designer: Sabine Böing
Commission by the City of Munich and the GEMA-Stiftung
Co-production: Münchener Biennale, Staatstheater Darmstadt and IRCAM/ Centre Georges-Pompidou (Paris)
In collaboration with Bayerische Theaterakademie im Prinzregententheater
World premiere: 21 April 1998 at 8 p.m.
Further performances: 23 and 24 April 1998 at 8 p.m.
1 and 3 July 1998 at 7.30p.m.
Length: 180 minutes, one intermission
Publishing rights: Sandeep Bhagwati
The story of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) could "be used almost without any changes by a scriptwriter for a film" (a quote from the 1930s by his British colleague B. M. Wilson). So far no one has taken this suggestion to heart, if you discount the several documentary films. Instead, Ramanujan is now the hero in a new music theatre piece: Sandeep Bhagwati has written a libretto and score consisting of five acts with 21 stations out of the life of this gifted scientist. It will celebrate its world premiere during the Sixth Munich Biennale.
Charlatan or genius? Ramanujan's theorems and the formulas which he develops appear to be so unusual and mysterious that none of his contemporaries are willing to decide whether they make sense or not. The young mathematician, part of a Brahman family, is therefore not allowed to take the university exam; he is sent off to Madras to be a bookkeeper in the department of port administration. Until Ramanujan writes a letter to a professor at Cambridge, Godfrey Harold Hardy. The professor immediately recognizes the Indians rare talent and in 1913 he hires him for Trinity College, providing the scientific sensation par excellence. In spite of all of the sudden recognition, this stroke of fate proves to be problematical for Ramanujan: separated from his cultural and social environment, transported to a world which doesn't understand the religious and ritual principles of the Brahmans, he feels lonely and uprooted. World War I results in an escalation: his specific vegetarian diet, a strict rule for every Brahman, is hardly possible anymore, but Ramanujan would rather suffer hunger than break the commandments. His health deteriorates and he contracts tuberculosis. He goes back to his homeland, but that cannot cure him anymore. Ramanujan dies in Madras, a mere 32 years of age, still working Iike a madman during his final days.
"Ramanujan practiced his science Iike an art", explains Sandeep Bhagwati. "A mathematician described him as a magician: even if you had understood and proved his theorems, you still wouldn't know how in the world he came up which them. Ramanujan himself once said that his family goddess appeared to him and unrolled a scroll with formulas, and then he simply copied them down..." The tension between Madras and Cambridge, between Hinduism and Christianity, between mystery and scientific empiricism forms the background for the intercultural discourse led by Bhagwati in his Opera. The interplay of the worlds is mirrored by the members of the orchestra and the musical resources: the 18 instrumentalists - strings, woodwind and brass Instruments as well as keyboard and piano - are joined by a violin soloist performing with Indian playing techniques and a mrdangam virtuoso. The levels of transcendence, of religion and mathematics, are made into sounds by means of electroacoustic music and an interactive real-time Computer program.
Sandeep Bhagwati is not concerned about stylistic pureness, compactness or structural logic in his score, but rather about the quality and significance of the mixtures. "We are lacking an intellectual instrumentation to deal with the principal unique conditions of combinations," he says. "We need a semantics of language bridges, a metalanguage with elements that would be quasi Chomsky-esque deep structures." Sandeep Bhagwati has made it his task to work an such an intercultural grammar. "Ramanujan" is meant to be a touchstone - for the composer as well as for his audience, which will be confronted with new aesthetic standards and will be given the chance to experience a different form of listening, a chance to perceive musical language.