The Fat Alien Sings: A Klingon-Language Opera The new Star Trek movie has one notable omission: the bumpy-headed warriors known as Klingons. That isn't stopping one theater company from going boldly where no theater company has gone before.

The Fat Alien Sings: A Klingon-Language Opera

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The new "Star Trek" movie opens tomorrow and it includes the usual suspects: Vulcans, Romulans and, of course, humans. But one race gets short shrift: Klingons.

The new movie is set before the strident bumpy-headed warriors were introduced to the "Star Trek" saga. But Klingons have not been forgotten — far from it. In fact, they're the subject of an ongoing research project into a long-neglected art form: Klingon opera.

Lara Pellegrinelli reports.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Every culture has its epic tales of mighty warriors. Odysseus blinds the Cyclops. Beowulf rips out the arm of Grendel. Kahless dices 500 warriors with a sword forged from his own hair and some help from the Lady Lukara. To celebrate their victory, they make love in the ankle-deep blood.

(Soundbite of opera, "u")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) For the first time, the gods knew fear. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods that created them and turned the heavens to ashes.

PELLEGRINELLI: The story of Kahless the Unforgettable is a cornerstone of Klingon mythology, as told in the opera "u." That would be spelled with the letter U in the English alphabet. Members of the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble, based in The Hague, have been workshopping "u" for the last year with an ambitious goal: to mount the first authentic performances of Klingon opera here on Earth.

Mr. JORN WEISBRODT (Creative Director, Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation): The first time I read that proposal, I thought, like, my god, they're freaks.

PELLEGRINELLI: Jorn Weisbrodt is the creative director for the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation.

Mr. WEISBRODT: But they're being very, very serious. And it's the result, basically, that counts. And I found the result quite fascinating and interesting and strange and weird.

PELLEGRINELLI: The foundation selected the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble for a residence last fall at the Watermill Center in Long Island, creative home of avant-garde playwright and director Robert Wilson. In fact, if you didn't know better, you'd probably think these actors were just working out another experimental theater piece.

(Soundbite of opera, "u")

Klingon Terran Research Ensemble: (Singing in Klingon)

PELLEGRINELLI: There are no space suits, no bumpy heads, no communicator badges. Working in the pristine white gallery, the performers engage in vocal combat across a hexagonal ring in standard black concert wear.

(Soundbite of opera, "u")

Klingon Terran Research Ensemble: (Singing in Klingon)

PELLEGRINELLI: "u" has required a great deal of research. Beyond the handful of episodes from "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" that reference Klingon opera, none of the actual music survives.

Floris Schoenfeld, the very real artistic director of the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble, says all he has to go on is the opera's written text in an ancient treatise called the paq'jachchcu.

Mr. FLORIS SCHOENFELD (Artistic Director, Klingon Terran Research Ensemble): That means the book of the perfect scream. This is basically the theory manuscript of Klingon music.

PELLEGRINELLI: Scream theory sounds like territory for psychotherapy, but Schoenfeld doesn't seem to be expressing repressed childhood traumas, nor is he merely a science fiction geek with too much time on his hands. He sees himself contributing to the development of a culture, like Marc Okrand.

Mr. MARC OKRAND (Linguist; Creator, Klingon language): I created a bunch of words and rules of grammar to put the words together and so forth.

PELLEGRINELLI: The linguist began inventing the Klingon language over 25 years ago as a consultant for "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." His audio book, "Conversational Klingon," is designed expressly for tourists visiting the empire.

Mr. OKRAND: Okay, here's our first word. This is something you might hear someone say in moments of extreme anger. (Klingon spoken)

The word begins with the common Klingon sound (makes sound). To make this sound, put the back of your tongue as far back into your mouth as you can. Then force the air up harshly, as if you're trying to dislodge a piece of food.

PELLEGRINELLI: Thanks to Okrand's work, thousands of people on earth are conversant in Klingon, and reportedly, some 100 speak it fluently.

Mr. OKRAND: What's interesting about Klingon is people have taken that and have created new things with it. People are translating the works of Shakespeare and other things into Klingon, translating all kinds of songs.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2 (Singer): (Singing in Klingon)

PELLEGRINELLI: If the idea of a Klingon George Thorogood strikes you as, well, ludicrous, the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble is really a serious outfit. Floris Schoenfeld has been exploring these strange new worlds like a cultural anthropologist. By trying to recreate Klingon opera, he says he's dealing with the same kinds of problems faced by anyone studying ancient Greek music or trying to stage so-called authentic works.

Mr. SCHOENFELD: We're on the border, a lot of the time, of making things up simply because there's - just we don't know. We don't have the access. We can't go to Qo'noS and hang out with the Imperial Opera. That's just not an option right now. And we're hoping, of course, for some grants to allow that.

PELLEGRINELLI: To go boldly where no man has gone before?

For NPR News, I'm Lara Pellegrinelli on the final frontier.

Klingon Terran Research Ensemble: (Singing in Klingon)

NORRIS: You can check out video clips of the Klingon Terran Research Ensemble performing at

Klingon Terran Research Ensemble: (Singing in Klingon)

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