Ravi Shankar’s Only Opera Sukanya to tour UK in World Premiere Production
Friday 12 May 2017 (world premiere) – Curve, Leicester
Sunday 14 May 2017 – The Lowry, Salford
Monday 15 May 2017 – Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Friday 19 May 2017 – Royal Festival Hall (in association with Southbank Centre, London)
The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve present the world premiere of Ravi Shankar’s only opera Sukanya which tours venues across the UK in May 2017. With a libretto by Amit Chaudhuri, the semi-staged opera is directed by Suba Das and conducted by David Murphy, with soprano Susanna Hurrell in the title role, bass-baritone Keel Watson, Brazilian baritone Michel de Souza, the BBC Singers and the full force of a 60-strong London Philharmonic Orchestra. The Orchestra is supplemented with Indian classical instruments including the sitar, shennai, tabla, mridangam and ghatam. The innovative Aakash Odedra Company provide the choreography and dancers and Tony Award-winning 59 Productions are providing production design.
Shankar was composing his pioneering opera Sukanya at the time of his passing, an opera exploring the common ground between the music, dance and theatrical traditions of India and the West. Conductor and collaborator David Murphy – who worked with Shankar for many years, notably conducting the world premiere of his Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2010 – completed the opera with help from Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s daughter.
Conductor David Murphy says: “Bringing Ravi Shankar’s only opera to life has been an amazing journey. A journey that was begun over a decade ago during the thousands of hours Raviji and I spent working closely together and which gained an unstoppable momentum in the last months of his life, continuing even during his time in hospital. Ever the practical musician, before undergoing what was to be his final surgery, he outlined the roadmap he had in his mind to take the work to completion – a vision so clear and compelling that it feels as if he is closely supervising the entire creative team as we move towards the world premiere in May 2017.”
Anoushka Shankar says: “It thrills me that this final project of my father’s, about which he was so passionate, is finally coming to life. My father was, of course, the first Indian classical musician to work with Western classical musicians, the first to write concertos for orchestra, the first to bring the music of India to a global audience. Even in his final years, he was the first to think further, to want to push even more boundaries, and bring Indian classical music to the context of opera. David Murphy has been so dedicated and sincere bringing my father’s vision to completion. I’m very grateful to everyone involved.”
Ravi Shankar was in a unique position to visualise the common ground between East and West. From Yehudi Menuhin, the legendary Western violinist, to George Harrison of the Beatles, his influence across the arts is legendary. From a young age, he was steeped in the ancient musical and dramatic traditions of India through his guru Baba Allauddin Khan but also gained a deep knowledge of the music and drama of the west. As a young man he experienced the reaction of Westerners to hearing Indian music for the first time: although many found it exciting he realised that it needed to be presented very carefully for the untrained Western ear to realise its depths.
His friendship with Yehudi Menuhin inspired Shankar to begin looking at the connections between Eastern and Western classical music. Alongside Shankar’s forays into chamber music – culminating in the album West Meets East in 1967 – his first major western classical commission came in 1970 from the London Symphony Orchestra. He began working on his Concerto, which was premiered in 1970 and conducted by André Previn. The Guardian critic Edward Greenfield commented that “If East has to meet West, then few musicians have achieved it with such open joy than Ravi Shankar.” Shankar continued to work with western classical music and in 2010 the London Philharmonic Orchestra gave the world premiere of his ambitious Symphony, conducted by David Murphy.
Amit Chaudhuri’s libretto, based on the legendary Sanskrit texts of the Mahābhārata, also draws on texts as diverse as Tagore, Eliot and Shakespeare. The story follows the young princess Sukanya who must marry the much older Chyavana, a wise religious man, after a terrible accident. As love unexpectedly grows between the couple, twin demi-gods attempt to woo the beautiful Sukanya, leading to an ultimate test as Chyavana is transformed into a third twin. Faced with a choice of three now identical, handsome young men, will Sukanya be able to identify her husband’s soul?
The world premiere of Sukanya is made possible through generous philanthropic support from Arts Council England and the Bagri Foundation. The work also received seed funding from Norwich Arts Centre and a Kickstarter campaign.
Sukanya is a co-production between The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve and 19 May performance is presented in association with Southbank Centre.