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Opera America

Savitri/River of Light

A Legendary Saga of India, and a West Coast Premiere

November 14 & 15, 2015
Oakland Asian Cultural Center, Oakland, CA

  Savitri/River of Light This fall, Festival Opera journeys to the richly-nuanced culture of India for a presentation of two noteworthy chamber operas: one classical — Gustav Holst's Savitri — and one contemporary: Jack Perla's River of Light.

Gustav Holst is widely recognized as the composer of The Planets, however most are not aware of his fascination with the land and culture of India. Savitri is a chamber opera in one act, Holst's Opus 25, with the libretto by Holst himself.

The story is based on the episode of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic of ancient India: Savitri, wife of the woodman Satyavan, hears the voice of Death calling to her. He has come to claim her husband. Satyavan arrives to find his wife in distress, but assures Savitri that her fears are but a "Maya" (illusion): "All is unreal, all is Maya." Even so, at the arrival of Death, all strength leaves him and he falls to the ground. Savitri, now alone and desolate, welcomes Death. Death, moved to compassion by her greeting, offers her a boon of anything but the return of Satyavan. Savitri asks for life in all its fullness. After Death grants her request, she informs him that a full life is impossible without her Satyavan. Death, defeated, leaves her and Satyavan awakens.

Jack Perla
Composer Jack Perla's River of Light
will receive its West Coast Premiere in
Festival Opera's fall production.
Bay Area composer and pianist Jack Perla is active in opera, jazz, chamber and symphonic music. River of Light, written with librettist and New York Times bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, received its premiere with Houston Grand Opera in March 2014. The story: Having moved from India, Meera loves her new husband, her high-powered job, and the Houston lifestyle — until the birth of her daughter makes her long to recreate authentic Diwali traditions at home. The tale unfolds in about 30 minutes with a score that draws extensively on North Indian ragas and an orchestra that mixes Western instruments with sitar and the tabla.

Coloratura soprano Maya Kherani will sing the principal roles — Savitri and Meera — in each of the two operas, underscoring Meera's roots when we see her again as a modern, assimilated Indian-American woman in the second opera, River of Light, a role Kherani created at the opera's World Premiere at Houston Grand Opera.

Kherani completed her masters degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2012 and is currently in residence at the prestigious Boston University Opera Institute. In addition to HGO, she has performed with Opera Parallèle, Central City Opera, and the San Francisco Bach Choir, among others.

Hear music from River of Light!

In making her company debut, Kherani will be joined by three Festival Opera veterans, bass-baritone Philip Skinner, tenor Jorge Garza, and baritone Daniel Cilli. Skinner, who will portray Death in Savitri, has been a frequent visitor to the Festival Opera stage since his company debut in 1999 as Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor. Most recently, he was featured in the role of — wait for it — Death, in 2014's The Emperor of Atlantis.

Chitra Divakaruni
River of Light librettist
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Garza, Satyavan in Savitri, was first heard with the company in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2008. His most recent appearance came in 2012 in About Face — An Opera Experience. Cilli returns to Festival Opera as Meera's American husband, Burton, in River of Light, after making his debut earlier this season in Ariadne auf Naxos. In addition, mezzo-soprano Molly Mahoney and tenor Michael Boley make their Festival Opera debuts as Meera's Houston neighbors.

Musically, the cast will be led by conductor John Kendall Bailey, one of whose lifelong ambitions has been to conduct Savitri in performance. His efforts will be supported by rising southern California stage director Tanya Kane-Perry, and by choreographer Antonia Minnecola, both making their company debuts, plus a wordless female chorus.

Joining the Festival Opera Chamber Orchestra are two special guest artists: Arjun Verma, an internationally performing sitarist trained by the legendary Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, and on tabla, Nilan Chaudhuri, son of legendary tabla artist Swapan Chaudhuri.

Festival Opera's presentation of River of Light is dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bernhard of HGOco, who commissioned and premiered River of Light — and who was a leader in creating bridges to diverse audiences for opera.

Savitri is dedicated to the memory of Mysore Gopal, engineer and husband of Prabha Gopal, our community liaison for these productions. Gopal discovered opera late in life, and was a delightful addition to our family.

Both will be remembered with great affection.

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