Storytelling has always been a part of my journey as an artist.
As an experienced opera singer, I know how females are represented in opera, and it has always bothered me. There are strong female characters, yes— but often they die at the end of the story, or they are shunned. Women, so often, play the taboo character. When you’re starting out as a singer, you always want to find work, which for me often meant playing the coquette— manoeuvring around men, being manipulative, or tricking them. Or playing the innocent daughter—the ingenue. Frequently, women play archetypes that can fall so easily into stereotypes. As a Lebanese-Canadian who grew up in an immigrant family in Canada, I was always wary of the stories that were being told about Arabs in the media, and aware that stereotypes existed. I’m a partner and a mother of two boys. To sustain a successful career, I have to be strong and find a way to do it all. But, I will always go to my family responsibilities first.
I really relate to Sāvitri—her character defies stereotypes, which is refreshing.
What spoke to me about directing Sāvitri is that the lead is not only an empowered woman, but that she confronts the God of Death and saves her husband. After all, when Sāvitri was searching for a partner, no man would propose to her. She was too strong—men were intimidated by her. It was her father who sends her out into the world to find her own husband. Only when she gives up and is on her way home does she ride through the forest, and meet Satyavan who is taking care of his parents. She falls in love with who he is—his actions and values. He was serving his parents and protecting them. Sāvitri knew that she had found her match. Yet, even when she was told that Satyavan would die in a year, she didn’t give up on him. That’s devotion.
Sāvitri is the hero of this story.
As a founding member of AtG Theatre, I’ve wanted to direct for a very long time. Sāvitri seemed manageable because it has a smaller cast and is a short chamber opera—about 40 minutes long. When I started listening to the music, I had vivid pictures in my mind and could see it forming into a film.
We didn’t choose Sāvitri because it was an Indian story—we chose it because it was a chamber opera that was created to be performed outdoors with a small cast. But the more our creative team examined it, the more this project became about highlighting cultures that aren’t at the forefront of classical music. As a Lebanese-Canadian, I can relate to the fact that everyone wants to be recognized, to be seen and heard. I’m excited about the creative process, and about highlighting the importance of historical accuracy and allowing voices to be heard.
AtG is continually pushing creative boundaries.
We always aim to produce works in the best and most engaging way possible, and that has always meant bringing these stories out of the opera house and into more natural habitats, with contemporary details.
With Sāvitri, though, I’m not thinking about pushing boundaries. I’m trying to root the story, and put it back in the soil from which it came—and part of that is finding artists that can bring their own cultural heritage and experience to the music. The challenge that opera is facing right now is not just about hiring the right people, it’s also about amplifying voices and cultures and finding a way to do so with respect and celebration.
At this moment in time, we’re trying to create a Savitri for 2021.
When we started to look at ways of producing this opera, I knew it was important to have as many diverse perspectives on the creative team as possible. I know we won’t get everything right, but we’re going to try to illuminate what is so important about this story and why. Hopefully, in the future, there will be other artists who tackle this work from their own perspective, creating new interpretations, and adding their vision to this unique piece.
Thank you to Miriam for contributing her artistic voice and being a part of Sāvitri. Read Miriam’s bio here.