Ravi Shankar opera to get posthumous world premiere

Sukanya, a Hindu tale named after the sitar great’s wife and completed by their daughter Anoushka, will be semi-staged at Leicester’s Curve with the LPO

The world premiere of Ravi Shankar’s only opera will be presented next May in a production at Leicester’s Curve theatre. The world-famous musician, first to bring Indian music to a global audience, began work on the composition in the final few years of his life, leaving the project almost finished at his death in December 2012. Days before what was to be his final surgery, Shankar outlined his vision for the complete opera to his longtime collaborator David Murphy, who, with the help of Shankar’s daughter Anoushka has since brought the opera to fruition.

“He’d written the whole piece in outline – the entire raga structure and almost all the melodies so [after Shankar’s death] it was just a matter of filling in the gaps, which were small,” explained Murphy, who will conduct the new work.

Named Sukanya, after his second wife, the opera tells the tale of her mythical namesake, the princess Sukanya, dutiful daughter and faithful wife of Hindu ancient legend. Author, academic and musician Amit Chaudhuri has written the libretto; Suba Das, associate director of Curve, will direct the semi-staged production that will also tour to Salford, Birmingham and London.

Sukanya Shankar and David Murphy, Sept 2016
Ravi Shankar’s wife Sukanya, and conductor David Murphy announce the opera’s world premiere production. Photograph: Sim Cannetty-Clarke

Over an extraordinary 70-year career, Shankar wrote many hundreds of pieces that spanned both Indian and western musical traditions. His most famous collaborators included Philip Glass, the Beatles and Yehudi Menuhin – who likened his gift for melody to that of Mozart and Beethoven. In the later years of his life, the pioneering musician composed two sitar concertos and a symphony which explored Indian music through the prism of western traditions. The idea for the opera was first aired in the 1990s, but work was not begun until 2004, then forced to sit on the backburner until 2010.

“At the beginning I laughed when my father, aged 90, said he was writing an opera,” said Anoushka Shankar. “But he never was content to sit still. He always wanted to push even more boundaries, and bring Indian classical music to the context of opera.”

Ravi Shankar.
Gift for melody … Ravi Shankar. Photograph: Michael Collopy

The work reaches down to the roots of both traditions, and is thus an amalgamation rather than fusion. “It sees western and Indian music through a different perspective, but Raviji wanted people to see them both as aspects of one whole,” said Murphy.

Soprano Susanna Hurrell will sing the title role. Five further soloists, 100 actors and dancers and 60 musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, their numbers supplemented with Indian classical instruments including the sitar, shehnai, tabla and ghatam will bring the work to life in a co-production between the Royal Opera, Curve and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

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