Mai Inspires Opera in Manhattan

Fabrice Coffrini in Newsweek Pakistan:

MaiTo those who complain that opera is an elitist indulgence served up to snobs in dinner jackets, New York’s latest world premiere may come as something of a shock. Inspired by the horrific gang rape of illiterate Pakistani woman Mukhtaran Mai on orders of a village council, Thumbprint is a $150,000 production currently having an eight-night run in a basement theater in Manhattan. One of the most infamous sex crimes against women in South Asia, Mai’s 2002 rape, survival and metamorphosis into an international rights icon is as far removed from opera-house pomp as possible. It may have earned a less-than-glowing review from The New York Times—“muted,” “not quite enough”—but the score is an alluring blend of South Asian and Western music, and the production starkly innovative. With a simple backcloth doubling up as a film projection screen, a few chairs and charpoys, the simple but powerful staging evokes the heat, the dust and the traditions of a Pakistani village. Mai, now in her 40s, was raped to avenge her 12-year-old brother’s alleged impropriety with a woman from a rival clan. Six men were sentenced to death for her rape in a landmark ruling. But five were later acquitted and the main culprit had his sentence reduced to life imprisonment: facts the opera omits. There is no staged recreation of the rape, which is instead portrayed by muffled shrieks of terror interspersed with a knife slashing open bags of sand.

Mai’s story has fresh resonance since the brutal gang rape of a student on a New Delhi bus and her death a little over a year ago sparked international outrage about the levels of violence against women in India

More here.