Shalimar the Clown

Opera in Two Acts (2016)
Libretto by Rajiv Joseph, on the novel by Salman Rushdie
6 primary, 6 secondary roles; SATB; Orchestra (2,2,2,2; 4,2,2,1;
Timp; 2 Perc; Harp; Piano/Keyboard; Sitar; Tabla; Strings)
Duration: 2′ 20″
Full Score :: Piano Vocal Score :: Booklet with Libretto
Commissioned by Opera Theater of St. Louis
Premiere June 11, 2016, Opera Theater of St. Louis
Further Information at Opera Theater of St. Louis
Sean Pannikar; Andriana Chuchman; Gregory Dahl;
Katherine Goeldner; Aubrey Allicock
Jayce Ogren, conductor; James Robinson, director

 Shalimar and his beloved Boonyi grow up together in a pastoral Kashmiri village, making people laugh as acrobats and dancers in a traditional folk theater. They fall in love, a youthful romance that culminates in a joyful wedding. But when the new American ambassador meets Boonyi, he seduces with the promise of a new life, sending Shalimar down a dangerous path of revenge.

Mr. Rushdie’s novel is part Hindu/Muslim Romeo and Juliet, part Himalayan Paradise Lost –  a meditation on the personal as political, and an allegory of the danger of innocence. Shalimar’s descent from clowning youth to mute assassin, reminiscent of Pagliacci, forms the main arc of the opera. Boonyi is the counter-curve — determined, like Carmen’s oiseau rebelle, to fly. When she and Shalimar are caught in flagrante, their fathers agree to “restore her honor” with a hasty marriage. Shalimar is Muslim and Boonyi Hindu, but in the spirit of kashmiriyat, and despite dark intonations from the Iron Mullah, the wedding proceeds. Paradise is restored. But not for Boonyi. She loves, or at least likes Shalimar. But an arranged wedding isn’t freedom. She leaves for Delhi with the American Max, and a darker side of kashmiriyat emerges. With Boonyi pronounced dead by the village, Shalimar sharpens his knife. Like Carmen, Boonyi’s flight toward freedom is her undoing. But India – her child with Max – a twenty-five-year-old archer and ultra-confident Angeleno, won’t share her mother’s fate.