a unique opera by Ravi Shankar
The Lowry, Salford
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Royal Festival Hall, London
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.
After a terrible mistake leaves the ancient sage Chyavana blinded, the beautiful princess Sukanya finds herself marrying for the sake of her kingdom. As a pair of swaggering, meddling gods watch this unlikely union blossom, will love grow in the strangest of circumstances?
Taken from the legendary Sanskrit texts of the Mahābhārata, the story of Sukanya has been brought to life in this innovative production with music by Indian music legend Ravi Shankar and combines traditional Indian instruments with Western orchestra and singers. This performance is directed by Curve Associate Director Suba Das and unites dance choreographed by the Aakash Odedra Company, production by The Royal Opera and the musicians of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
These performances are a co-production between The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester in association with Southbank Centre, with generous philanthropic support from Arts Council England and the Bagri Foundation.
“All this lavishness was assembled to tell a charming story from the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata, about the princess Sukanya who accidentally blinds a reverend sage, marries him to make amends, and outwits a couple of jealous gods who want her for themselves.”
“Molly Einchomb’s triple-staircase set is backed by a huge white scrim that’s kept busy with inventive video imagery by 59 Productions, so as theatre the show is more total than partial. However, the effect, like the music, is not easy to describe. Best go see for yourself.”
“In Suba Das’s semi-staging a staircase broad enough to dance upon rises from amidst the musicians, while video projections sweep the story seamlessly between the world of the Mahabharata and the present day.”
“With minimal but evocative designs by 59 Productions, the semi-staging was a visual treat. Voiles and silks the colours of earth and trees filled the stage, worn by dancers using ancient and modern styles. Splashes of acid pink and sky-blue added contrast. Projected backdrops of misty wooded landscapes, palaces and sunsets captured the heat and mystery of India.”
“Ravi Shankar wrote this, his only opera, when he was 90 [..] This is the work of a dying man reaffirming his delight in life and love, music and spectacle [..] Das stages it on an imposing temple staircase, with an esoteric and sometimes bemusing range of videos projected onto a backcloth: everything from a starry night sky to what seems like a giant fishtank.”
“It is billed as a “semi-staged production” – one in which the cast share the stage with a 55-piece London Philharmonic Orchestra, five Indian musicians and an 18-piece choir – but it is quite a spectacle, with spellbinding back projections, dancers in ravishing costumes, all taking place on three grand staircases. There are dancers with rings on their noses and bells on their toes, throwing elaborate kathakali and flamenco shapes, and other men and women twirling like whirling dervishes.”
“Transporting everyone between locations is cleverly done using projections by Akhila Krishnan and the team at 59 Productions, who show just how effective such an approach can be. All round an evening of pure delight. Sukanya may not be opera as usually known in the West but it’s a massively colourful, entertaining, total integration of music, dance, drama and modern visuals”
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Production & Video Design
Set Design and Costume Concept
Aneeth Arora for Péro
Assistant Set Designer