Multicultural cast gathers for Ravi Shankar’s final work, ‘Sukanya’

Anoushka and Sukanya Shankar celebrate the launch of Ravi Shankar's Opera Sukanya

Anoushka and Sukanya Shankar celebrate the launch of Ravi Shankar's Opera Sukanya

A multicultural cast has gathered to stage Ravi Shankar’s final work, an opera entitled Sukanya, which opens on 12th May 2017 at the Curve in Leicester, before touring across the UK. The legendary sitar maestro was composing his pioneering opera Sukanya at the time of his passing and the baton has been passed to a unique collaboration of talent, with singers, dancers and creative production team from across the continents. With the text of the opera (libretto) by renowned author Amit Chaudhuri, the semi-staged opera is directed by Suba Das and conducted by David Murphy who worked closely with the legendary Ravi Shankar for much of his life, and completed the opera with the help of Anoushka Shankar.  

The opera features British soprano Susanna Hurrell in the title role, Indian born American tenor Alok Kumar, British bass-baritone Keel Watson, Brazilian baritone Michel de Souza, South African baritone Njabulo Madlala, the BBC Singers and the full force of a 60-strong London Philharmonic OrchestraThe 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 and Matt Haskins are providing production and lighting design respectively.

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?

Shankar was inspired to choose this subject while exploring the story behind the name of his wife, Sukanya Shankar, who says: “My memory is very vivid and fresh of the day when Raviji was asking my mother about the story behind my name, Sukanya, sometime in the mid-nineties. He was so excited and wanted to do an opera. With his busy schedule of touring, performing and teaching, it was shelved. In the last few years before he left his physical abode, he started to work on it with David Murphy who he was very fond of and loved working with. He was confident that if for some reason he was not able to complete the opera, Anoushka would complete it for him. Luckily, he worked even in hospital before his final surgery with David by his side and completed it. David has done a brilliant job of arranging and bringing to life this Magnum Opus work of Raviji. I am grateful to David and to Anoushka for their inputs.

My husband, an enigmatic genius, was a cluster of energy, creativity, love and inspiration who never ceased to surprise me in all our time together and has done it again! This opera is a standing testimony to the ultimate in the amalgamation of East Meeting West as natural as can be.” 

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.

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.

Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka, who has also been instrumental in the completion of the project alongside David Murphy says of the opera: “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.”

Sukanya Tour Dates

Friday 12 May 2017 (world premiere)
60 Rutland Street
Leicester LE1 1SB
Tickets: £10 – £32.50
Click to buy tickets

Sunday 14 May 2017
The Lowry
The Quays, Pier 8,
Salford M50 3AZ
Tickets: £17 – £43.50
Click to buy tickets

Monday 15 May 2017
Symphony Hall
The International Convention Centre
Broad Street
Birmingham B1 2EA
Tickets: £12.50 – £42
Click to buy tickets

Friday 19 May 2017
Royal Festival Hall
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tickets: £15 – £50
Click to buy tickets

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Sukanya – The Creative Team

Amit Chaudhuri, Libretto

Amit Chadhuri

Amit Chaudhuri was born in Calcutta in 1962 and grew up in Bombay. He was a student at the Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay, took his first degree, in English, from University College London, and wrote his doctoral dissertation on D H Lawrence’s poetry at Balliol College, Oxford.

He is the author of six novels, the latest of which is Odysseus Abroad. His first major work of non-fiction, Calcutta: Two Years in the City, was published in the UK and India in 2013. His second book of essays, Telling Tales, was published in the UK in August 2013.

Among the prizes he has won for his fiction are the Commonwealth Literature Prize, the Betty Trask award, the Encore Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Indian government’s Sahitya Akademi Award. In 2012, he was awarded the West Bengal government’s Rabindra Puraskar for his book On Tagore.

In 2013, he became the first person to be awarded the Infosys Prize for outstanding contribution to the humanities in Literary Studies, from a jury comprising Amartya Sen, the philosopher Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University), the critic Homi Bhabha (Harvard), the South Asia scholar Sheldon Pollock (Columbia), former Indian chief justice Leila Seth, and the legal thinker Upendra Baxi (Warwick).

Chaudhuri is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the English Association, and was a judge of the Man Booker International Prize. His first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address, is included in Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil’s Two Hundred Best Novels of the Last Fifty Years. His second novel, Afternoon Raag, was on Anne Enright’s list of 10 Best Short Novels in the Guardian. He is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia, and is editor of the Picador/ Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature. He has one book of poetry, St Cyril Road and other poems.

Suba Das – Director

Director of Sukaya - Suba Das

British director and producer Suba Das makes his Royal Opera debut in the 2016/17 Season directing the posthumous world premiere of Ravi Shankar’s opera Sukanya, in a semi-staged co-production between The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester. Das is Associate Director at Curve, a position he has held since 2012.

Das was born in Newcastle. He studied English at Cambridge University and trained as a director at Birkbeck, University of London. He began his career as Resident Assistant Director at Theatre Royal Stratford East, productions including a site-specific production of Medea that used his own translation. He went on to become the youngest ever Director in Residence at the National Theatre Studio. In 2010 he co-founded Custom/Practice, staging site-specific productions across London of OthelloThe Winter’s Tale and The Revenger’s Tragedy in collaboration with the Old Vic Tunnels and Hoxton Hall.

At Curve, Das oversees all commissioning and development of new work, showcased in the theatre’s annual Inside Out Festival, which has drawn an audience of more than 20,000 people since its inaugural festival in 2014. Directing credits at Curve include the world premieres of Wipers by Ishy Din (for the centenary of World War I) and Pink Sari Revolution (based on the documentary novel by Amana Fontanella-Khan), Abigail’s Party and Mother Clap’s Molly House. Away from Curve, Das has directed for venues and companies including Young Vic, Roundhouse and Old Vic New Voices, and works regularly as a dramaturg for dance and circus.

Aakash Odedra – Choreographer

Aakash Odedra

British dancer-choreographer Aakash Odedra made his Royal Opera House debut in 2012, performing Akram Khan’s solo work In the Shadow of Man in the British Dance Edition in the Linbury Studio Theatre. He choreographed a work for The Royal Ballet’s Draft Works 2014 and created Unearthed for the Company as part of Sampling the Myth for Deloitte Ignite 14. Later in the 2014/15 Season he presented the mixed programme Murmur (with Lewis Major and Ars Electronica Futurelab) and Inked (by Damien Jalet) in the Linbury Studio Theatre. In the 2016/17 Season he choregraphs Sukanya, a co-production between The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester.

Odedra was born in Birmingham and trained in the classical Indian dance styles of Kathak and Bharat Natyam in the UK and India. He incorporates that training in a unique synthesis with contemporary dance, both in his choreography and his creations with other choreographers. His one-man show Rising (The Place and subsequent world tour) featured new short works created for him by Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant. As dancer-choreographer his credits include a duet with Sanjukta Sinha at Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival, a piece for James Brown: Get on the Good Foot (Apollo Theater, New York) and the Bollywood musical God’s Little Soldier (Theater Freiburg). He has also choreographed for the European Network of Performing Arts’ 2010 ChoreoLab, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the closing of the London Cultural Olympiad.

Odedra has received numerous awards and bursaries, including a development grant by Arts Council England, a two-year bursary from Akademi, a Danza&Danza award (Italy), a Dora performance award (Canada), Best Performance 2013 (Croatia) and a Sky Academy Arts Scholarship.

David Murphy – Director

David Murphy Conductor

Welsh conductor David Murphy makes his Royal Opera debut in the 2016/17 Season conducting the posthumous premiere of Ravi Shankar’s opera Sukanya, in a co-production with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester. He has previously worked at the Royal Opera House as assistant to Charles Mackerras.

Murphy was born in Pembrokeshire. He trained as a violinist at the Purcell School and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and went on to perform as a soloist and chamber musician throughout Britain and Europe. After two years spent teaching at Wichita State University he trained as a conductor with Jay Decker, Gustav Meier, Seiji Ozawa and Léon Barzin. He has since conducted orchestras including London Philharmonic Orchestra (engagements including the world premiere of Shankar’s Symphony, recorded for LPO Live), Scottish Chamber Orchestra (including the world premiere of Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod concerto Samaagam, recorded for Harmonic Mundi), Residentie Orkest (including the European premiere of Indra and the Polish premiere of Elgar/Payne’s Symphony no.3), London Sinfonietta (including Holst’s Savitri), Philharmonia Orchestra (including the London premiere of Holst’s Indra), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Britten Sinfonia.

Murphy has been Musical Director of Sinfonia Verdi since 1990. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Sukanya – The Cast

Susanna Hurrell – Sukanya

English soprano Susanna Hurrell made her Royal Opera debut in 2014, singing Music/Erisbe in The Royal Opera’s production of L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe. She has since returned to sing for The Royal Opera Music/Erisbe and Nymph (Orfeo) at the Roundhouse, Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi) on the main stage and in the world premiere of 4.48 Psychosis at the Lyric Hammersmith. She returns in the 2016/17 Season to sing the title role in the world premiere of Sukanya.

Hurrell was born in London and trained at the Royal College of Music with Patricia Rozario and the National Opera Studio with Jeffrey Talbot. Engagements include Mélisande for English Touring Opera, Despina (Così fan tutte) for Opéra-Théâtre de Limoges, Norina (Don Pasquale) for Longborough Festival Opera, Céphise (Rameau’s Pigmalion) with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Governess (The Turn of the Screw) with Nevill Holt Opera, NI Opera and the Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre, Moscow, Rose Maurrant (Street Scene) for The Opera Group, Théâtre du Châtelet and Liceu, Barcelona, and Cephisa (Telemann’s Orpheus) for Classical Opera. For the London Handel Festival she has sung roles including Rodelinda, Rossane (Alessandro) and Amarilli (Il pastor fido).

Hurrell sings regularly in concert, her engagements including Fauré’s Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall (also recorded by EMI Classics), the Messiah with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with the OAE, Kurt Weill: From Berlin to Broadway with Keith Lockhart and the BBC Concert Orchestra, Haydn’s Nelson Mass with András Schiff and the world premiere of Oppenheimer’s Deborah with the Southbank Sinfonia.

Alok Kumar – Chyvana

American tenor Alok Kumar makes his Royal Opera debut in the 2016/17 Season as Chyvana (Ravi Shankar’s Sukanya, world premiere), in a co-production between The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester.

Kumar was born in Nagpur, India, and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York. He trained at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, and Boston University Opera Institute. Opera engagements have included Don José (Carmen) for Michigan Opera Theatre, Florida Grand Opera and in New York and Hong Kong, Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) for Palm Beach Opera, Macduff (Macbeth) for Opera Company of Middleburg and further credits with Santa Fe Opera, Austin Opera, Asheville Lyric Opera, Opera Delaware,

Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre and Portland Opera. He is a keen supporter of contemporary music, with engagements including the world premiere of Thomas Cabaniss’s cantata My Song Is a Fire and a recording of Jesus of Nazareth (Marcos Galvany’s Oh My Son) with Washington National Symphony Orchestra. Kumar’s solo concert appearances include with orchestras around the world and in venues including Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.

Kumar is a qualified lawyer and a practising attorney.

Keel Watson – King Sharyaati

British bass-baritone Keel Watson made his Royal Opera debut in 2000 as Bosun (Billy Budd). He has since returned sung Caterpillar (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) with Opera Holland Park at the Royal Opera House. In the 2016/17 Season he sings King Sharyaati (Sukanya, world premiere), in a co-production between The Royal Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester.

Watson studied singing and trombone at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Opera engagements include Fasolt (Das Rheingold) and Zuniga (Carmen) for Teatro Nacional de São Carlos and Teatro Massimo di Palermo, King (Aida) for Bregenz Festival, Reinmar von Zweter (Tannhäuser) for Greek National Opera, Frazier (Porgy and Bess) for Opéra de Lyon and the Edinburgh International Festival, Caronte (Orfeo) for English National Opera and Opera Zuid, Doctor (Punch and Judy) for Casa da Música, Porto, Elder Ott (Susannah) for Angers Nantes Opéra, Nourabad (Les Pêcheurs de perles) and Oroveso (Norma) for Opera Holland Park, Commendatore (Don Giovanni) for Mid Wales Opera, Dosifey (Khovanshchina) and Iago (Otello) for Birmingham Opera Company, Don Pasquale and Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra) for English Touring Opera and Mandryka (Arabella) for Opera North. Watson regularly performs in contemporary opera, his role creations including Elder (Turnage’s The Country of the Blind) and Parlaine (Dove’s The Palace in the Sky).

Watson performs widely in concert in repertory including A Child of Our Time, Mahler’s Symphony No.8 and Verdi’s Requiem. His film credits including Second Armed Man (Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute) and Harašta (Geoff Dunbar’s The Cunning Little Vixen).

Michel De Souza – Aswini Twin

Brazilian baritone Michel de Souza was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme 2012–14, his roles including Schaunard (La bohème), Captain (Eugene Onegin), Angelotti (Tosca), Flemish Deputy (Don Carlo), City Crier (Gloriana), Servant (Capriccio), Mandarin (Turandot), Moralès (Carmen), Nightwatchman (Die Frau ohne Schatten), Baron Douphol (La traviata), Second Commissary (Dialogues des Carmélites), Guglielmo (Così fan tutte Act I, JPYAP summer performance) and King (El gato con botas, Meet the Young Artists Week). In the 2016/17 Season he returns to sing Aswini Twin (Sukanya, world premiere) and Ping (Turandot).

De Souza was born in Petropolis and studied organ and singing at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, with Benito Maresca in São Paulo and at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. As a member of the Emerging Artists Programme at Scottish Opera his roles included Escamillo (Carmen) and Forester (The Cunning Little Vixen). Engagements since leaving the JPYA include Schaunard, Scythian (Iphigénie en Tauride), Marullo (Rigoletto), Captain (Eugene Onegin) and Le Baron Grog (La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein) for the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Guglielmo for Teatro Argentino de La Plata, Gonzales (Il Guarany) for Palácio das Artes, Belo Horizonte, and Sonora (La fanciulla del West) and High Priest of Dagon (Samson et Dalila) for Grange Park Opera. He also appears regularly in concert and recital.

De Souza’s awards include first prize in the Maria Callas, Margaret Dick and Ye Cronies competitions, an Independent Opera Post Graduate Voice Fellowship and a Samling Scholarship.

Njabulo Madlala – Aswini Twin

South African baritone Njabulo Madlala made his Royal Opera House debut in 2011 as the Thames Captain (Heart of Darkness, world premiere) for ROH2. He returned in 2013 for The Royal Opera in the world premiere of How the Whale Became and has since returned to sing with the ensemble in The Nose. He returns later in the 2016/17 Season to sing Aswini Twin (Sukanya, world premiere).

Madlala was born in Durban and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Wales International Academy of Voice. Awards include the 2010 Kathleen Ferrier Award and the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Opera engagements include Don Giovanni for Mid Wales Opera, Schaunard (La bohème) and Bartolomeo (Il furioso) for English Touring Opera, Don Fernando (Fidelio) and Bello (La fanciulla del West) for Opera Holland Park, Singer (Intermezzo) for Buxton Festival Opera, Scarpia (Tosca) for Grange Park Opera and Mel (The Knot Garden) for the Montepulciano Festival.

Madlala’s concert engagements include Mozart’s Requiem with English Chamber Orchestra, London Mozart Players and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Handel’s Messiah with Philharmonia Orchestra, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski and recitals at the Wigmore Hall and the Oxford Lieder and Ravinia festivals.

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