I’ve been commissioned by Opera Theater St. Louis to compose a full length opera for their 2015 season, based on Salman Rushdie’s novel “Shalimar the Clown”. James Robinson will direct the production. This is incredibly thrilling – many of my friends know that Shalimar has been a dream project for some years now; I’m still adjusting to the fact that it’s happening! I’m enormously grateful to visionary director Jim Robinson for taking the leadership role in finding a home for Shalimar, and I couldn’t ask for a better one than OTSL – an inspiring organization with a record of producing challenging, innovative new work and powerful productions.
DIRECTOR James Robinson is regarded as one of America’s most inventive and sought-after stage directors. He has won wide acclaim for productions that range from the standard repertory to world premieres to seldom performed works, and he is considered the most widely performed director of opera in North America. Past season productions include Il Trittico at San Francisco Opera, Casanova’s Homecoming at Minnesota Opera, The Ghosts of Versailles at Wexford Festival Opera, and Abduction From The Seraglio at Welsh National Opera. In 2008, James was appointed Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony. As of 2012 Opera Theatre has presented 22 world premieres and 23 American premieres – which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company. Described by The Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis welcomed visitors from 45 states and 12 foreign countries in 2011. Although the size of the theater limits box office income to 26% of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit. Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 by general director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord as music director. Timothy O’Leary was named General Director in October 2008 with Stephen Lord continuing as music director and acclaimed stage director James Robinson succeeding Colin Graham.
The political is personal, and nowhere more so than in Salman Rushdie’s 2005 novel “Shalimar the Clown”. The book’s themes of personal and political power and betrayal are played against the story of three generations of women, beginning in the “paradise lost” of rural Kashmir and culminating in late 20th century Los Angeles. Shalimar is a young Muslim Kashmiri known for his gregarious personality and his skill as a tightrope walker. His Romeo-and-Juliet romance with a Hindu girl named Boonyi manages to meet with approval from their families and their village, but the romance is shattered when an American ambassador begins an affair with Boonyi. Shalimar goes on to train as an assassin and seeks revenge not only on the ambassador but also the child of the affair, a daughter named India, who lives in California.
Mr. Rushdie’s novel was a finalist for the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards, and has been described as “Rushdie’s greatest novel since The Satanic Verses” by The Los Angeles Times. The novel’s magic-realist world incorporates Mr. Rushdie’s signature humor, balanced by a thrilling, sinister ending, which offers a bare glint of hope in the form of an unanswered question.