Conductor / Artist Director
Composer / Musician
Video / Set Design
Royal Opera House
Linbury Studio Theatre, July 14
Sukanya is a unique opera which Pandit Ravi Shankar was working on at the time of his passing in December 2012. The story is inspired by an episode from Book 3, Vana Parva (Book of the Forest) of the Mahabharata, the longest of the Sanskrit epics of ancient India, ten times the length of the Odyssey and the Iliad combined.
Ravi Shankar envisaged Sukanya as a truly groundbreaking piece of musical theatre, which will explore the common ground between the music, dance and theatrical traditions of India and the West. As a young man he had noticed that the Western ear is attuned to harmony, modulation and counterpoint in music: musical textures which of necessity are almost entirely absent in Indian music in order to maintain the melodic purity of the raga. He realised Western-trained ears needed an awareness of the rhythmic and melodic structures underpinning Indian music in order to begin to appreciate its complexity and subtlety. Thus, Ravi Shankar became the first Indian musician to explain these concepts to his audiences and Indian music began to have an influence on most genres of Western music. Yehudi Menuhin the legendary Western violinist became a duo partner and George Harrison was another Western musician for whom the music of India resonated deeply. Other musicians profoundly influenced included the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and the composer Philip Glass.
The opera Sukanya tells the story of Chayvana, a young man who is meditating in the forest. He becomes so engrossed in his tapas that time begins to pass without him noticing and many years go by. The forest changes and grows around him, ants begin to build a nest around him and soon, an ant hill covers him completely. But his meditation continues.
One beautiful spring day King Saryati comes to the forest with his retinue for a spring festival. His only daughter Sukanya notices the ant hill and seeing what looks like two jewels glowing from within, pokes them with a sharp stick. They hear a scream from within the ant hill and the weather suddenly changes. The king and his entourage begin to feel ill, and Sukanya senses that it is something to do with the jewels. She confesses and they investigate the huge ant hill.
Chyavana, now a Sage and a very old man is revealed beneath, he has been blinded, and as compensation asks for Sukanya’s hand in marriage.The King, aware of Chyavana’s spiritual stature agrees.
Sukanya lives with the sage happily and faithfully in the forest for many years. One day she is spotted by the Aswini Devas, two beautiful youthful demigods. They seek to test her devotion to her husband and tell her if she passes their test, they will restore Chavyana’s youth to him…
Selected scenes from Sukanya were presented as part of performances at the Linbury Theatre at The Royal Opera House, Norwich Arts Centre and the Curve Theatre in Leicester in July – August 2014, with the support of Arts Council England, The Bagri Foundation, the respective theatres themselves.
Photos were laken at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House