What do you get when the world’s superstar sitar maestro – and the original Indo-Western fusion artist – turns his mind to opera? You get Sukanya – the late, great Ravi Shankar’s last work which will premiere in the UK in May next year – and which is the one thing you should get sorted for your 2017 cultural calendar this side of Christmas.
Sukanya will present the Indian classical music tradition within the framework of an opera, in an attempt to explore the commonalities between the Indian and Western classical traditions. We say this faux-authoritatively now – but when we were invited to the press launch, we went along with nary the foggiest about what to expect. We were met with operatic vocals by the soprano star of the Royal Opera Susanna Hurrell, accompanied by piano and mridangam – and an unprecedented, but entirely delightful sound. Hear for yourself in our video:
The finished show will feature four additional main singers, five Indian musicians, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There’s also a dance element, with choreography by the Aakash Odedra Company.
The opera is based on a story from the Mahabharata, of Sukanya (namesake of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s wife) who after a fateful mistake becomes the devoted wife of an old Sage, until she is tested by two mischievous Gods. What follows will – unless you’re a Hindu mythology expert – have to be revealed!
The story of how the opera came to be made is almost as compelling. Ravi Shankar conceived the idea in the 1990s, and started composing it in 2004. It was still unfinished when he passed, and was completed by his long-time collaborator David Murphy and daughter Anoushka Shankar – with advice from his wife Sukanya with whom the maestro had discussed the opera over a period of 20 years.
‘I laughed when my father, aged 90, said he was writing an opera‘, Anoushka Shankar has said. ‘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’s life work was about exploring and finding the synergies between Western and Indian musical traditions. He was amongst the first to explain Indian music, and its particular concepts of rhythm and melody, to Western audiences. He collaborated with some of the greatest Western musicians, including the celebrated violinist Yehudi Menuhin and Beatle George Harrison.
Clearly a labour of love by one of the world’s greatest musicians, and a celebration of his greatest passions – storytelling, music and dance, Sukanya is not to be missed. It premieres in Leicester’s The Curve and then comes to London straight after as the opening night of the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival. Tickets will go fast, so book now!
When: Friday 19 May 2017, 7.30pm
Where: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
Tickets: £15 – £50 (+ £1.75 booking fee)
More info: Southbank Centre
By Seema Khan
Posted on 18 December 2016
Cover photo courtesy of Southbank Centre