Sounds & Images

An introduction to Arjuna's Dilemma


about arjuna's dilemma

Music by Douglas Cuomo
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Text from the Bhagavad Gita
Produced by Music-Theatre Group
Audio CD: Innova 697 (Released July 1, 2008)

"Like the best of today’s composers, from the late Lou Harrison to Osvaldo Golijov, Cuomo has developed a lingua franca that is international enough to allow the speakers of different musical languages to communicate... The music occupies a space that is not bound by geography or chronology." —John Schaefer, WNYC
The Music
Arjuna’s Dilemma, a 70-minute chamber opera, is my most ambitious composition to date. A work of both sweeping grandeur and piercing intimacy, Arjuna’s Dilemma seamlessly melds classical, jazz and traditional Indian musical idioms as it explores ancient themes that remain startlingly topical: the claims of conscience and duty in a time of war; the search for self-knowledge in a changing world.

Scored for six vocalists (Indian singer, tenor and a four-member female chorus) and twelve instrumentalists (string quintet, piano, two winds, two percussion, tablas and jazz saxophone), Arjuna’s Dilemma utilizes North Indian performance styles, melodic structures, tuning systems, odd time signatures and rhythmic patterns alongside western instrumentation, harmonies and forms. North Indian vocals co-mingle with a Western tenor and four-part choral writing, with references to both modern vocal styles and Byzantine and Gregorian chant. Improvisation is common to both musical worlds, with the Indian singer, tabla player and jazz saxophonist each using their respective improvisatory traditions to reach for the ecstatic, the sublime and the terror that make up the emotional world of this work.

The Story
At the battlefield on the eve of the first conflict of a massive civil war, Prince Arjuna finds himself in a state of almost paralyzing confusion. He must lead his army against an enemy that includes family, friends, and teachers. Unable to justify such violence against his own people, he turns for guidance to his advisor and charioteer Krishna, who has not yet revealed himself to be an incarnation of the most powerful god in the Hindu pantheon. In the ensuing dialogue, Krishna gradually reveals to Arjuna the true nature of the universe, in all its splendor and its horror.

The Recording
ListenClick Here to Listen
Here are a few excerpts from the new Innova recording. Performers include the Indian vocalist Amit Chatterjee (Zawinul Syndicate), tenor Tony Boutte, a four-member female chorus (Jacqueline Horner and Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4, Gallienne Eriksen and Maren Montalbano), tabla player Badal Roy (Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman), improvising saxophone soloist Bob Franceschini (Ruben Blades & Seis de Solar, Mike Stern) and a 10-piece chamber ensemble including new music luminaries Ethel String Quartet, Andrew Sterman, Ann Cecil-Sterman, Kathleen Supové, Robert Black, Jim Pugliese and Rex Benincasa. Conducted by Alan Johnson and recorded and mixed by Grammy-winning engineer Frank Wolf.

The Production Team
The stage production of Arjuna’s Dilemma is produced by Music-Theatre Group, New York, NY

Director: Robin Guarino
Choreography: John Kelly
Scenic design: Donald Eastman
Costume design: Gabriel Berry
Lighting design: Robert Wierzel
Projection design: William Cusick
Music director: Alan Johnson


Arjuna's Dilemma
CD on Innova Recordings available through online retailers, download shops, and record stores throughout North America and beyond

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For information on presenting Arjuna's Dilemma, contact Music-Theatre Group