Based on the ancient Hindu Legend from The Vana Parva (The Book of the Forest) of the Mahābhārata. A contemporary 40-minute film of the outdoor chamber opera by Gustav Holst.
Director Miriam Khalil | Associate Director Simran Claire
Starring Meher Pavri as Sāvitri | Vartan Gabrielian as Yama, God of Death | Andrew Haji as Satyavān
A legend for our time.
The story of Sāvitri is based on the ancient Indian legend of a powerful female princess who falls in love with Satyavān, an exiled prince, who is prophesied to die young. She marries him with this looming knowledge. Exactly one year into their marriage, she is visited by the God of Death—Yama—who informs her that he has come to claim Satyavān’s life.
Satyavān is suddenly struck down by a deadly illness as Death looms over him, claiming his soul.
Instead of giving into fear and loss, Sāvitri engages Death in a dialogue, inviting him into her world. Death, charmed by her humanity and impressed by her resilience, devotion and sanctity, offers Savitri a consolation…
Death tells her he will grant her a wish, with one important exception: Sāvitri cannot wish for her husband’s return to the realm of the living…
Watch the Trailer
Running time: 40 minutes
Subtitles available in Hindi, English, and French
Sāvitri Digital Album
We are thrilled to announce the Sāvitri Digital Album, which marks the third release from Against the Grain Records.
The album features the cast’s original recording of Gustav Holst’s score from the 2021 film release, and the original Hindustani music played and composed by Arnab Chakrabarty (Sarod) and Shahbaz Hussain (Tabla).
Each download supports Against the Grain Theatre and the artists of Sāvitri.
A story about a courageous woman, told by empowered female artists.
Directed by Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil and Associate Directed by Punjabi-Canadian mezzo-soprano Simran Claire.
“The way that women are represented in many operas has always bothered me. Sāvitri spoke to me because not only is the lead a strong woman, but she saves her husband in this story. I love that there’s an empowered woman at the centre of Sāvitri.“
Her artistic practice is rooted at the intersection of innovation and tradition, with an emerging focus on multidisciplinary work. She is proud to represent her community in the white-dominated spaces of opera and art song.
This past February, Simran released Dadima (Pacific Opera Victoria), a short film exploring her identity, heritage, and lineage using the framework of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben. Her creative debut was praised as “utterly moving, disorientating in a beautiful way, like uncovering a cultural bias you didn’t know you had,” (Opera Canada).Simran was a Young Artist at The Glimmerglass Festival in 2019, and has sung with companies including Pacific Opera Victoria, Vancouver Opera, and Opéra Royal de Versailles. She is a graduate of the University of British Columbia (BMus, MMus) and is a recipient of the UBC Medal in Music, the faculty’s highest graduating award. Simran is also a trained bhangra and bollywood dancer, and a self-taught quilter.
“Sāvitri speaks to where my family has come from and my identity as a Punjabi performer born in Canada. I’m not compartmentalizing my cultural heritage and my career as an artist – I can approach this project as a whole person.“
Rivard served as Resident Conductor of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (Ontario, Canada) in 2017-2018. In 2019, he made a successful debut with Symphony Nova Scotia (Halifax, Canada). In 2018, Rivard was invited to participate in the first Conducting Mentorship Program at the Verbier Festival Academy (Switzerland). In addition to being mentored by Valery Gergiev, he acted as assistant conductor to Sir Simon Rattle, Gianandrea Noseda, Marc Minkowski and Gábor Takács-Nagy. He was awarded a Special Prize, to help him pursue his mentorship with maestros Gergiev and Noseda.
She is a 5 time Dora Mavor Moore nominee as well as a 4 time nominee for the Virginia & Myrtle Cooper Travel Award in Costume Design.
“Canada’s feisty, out of the box little opera company, has struck gold once again… Lebanese-Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil has made a stunning directorial debut, aided by Punjabi-Canadian associate director, mezzo-soprano Simran Claire. Strong women telling a story about a strong woman, as it were.” — Paula Citron, Ludwig van Toronto
The sound of devotion.
Sāvitri features a chorus of 8 singers and an ensemble of 12 musicians conducted by Simon Rivard. The chorus is comprised of Rebecca Gray (Soprano 1), Juliana Krajcovic (Soprano 1), Madison Angus (Soprano 2), Tiffanie Samuels (Soprano 2), Renee Fajardo (Alto 1), Carly Naimer (Alto 1), Alex Hetherington (Alto 2), and Jennifer Routhier (Alto 2).
The ensemble is comprised of Marie Bérard (Violin 1), Aaron Schwebel (Violin 2), Rémi Pelletier (Viola), Winona Zelenka (Cello), Yolanda Bruno (Violin 1), Amanda Goodburn (Violin 2), Theresa Rudolf (Viola), Leana Rutt (Cello), Tony Flynt (Contrabass), Les Allt (Flute 1), Leslie Newman (Flute 2), and Mark Rogers (English Horn).
Original Hindustani music played and composed by Arnab Chakrabarty (Sarod) and Shahbaz Hussain (Tabla) will be bookending the opera.
Arnab has had his training under three major representatives of the Shahjahanpur Gharana of sarod music, Dr Kalyan Mukherjea, Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta and Ustad Irfan Muhammad Khan. He has also benefited from vocal training under the late maestro of the Gwalior Gharana, Pandit Yeshwantbua Joshi.
A student of music for over 35 years, Arnab Chakrabarty has been a professional musician for two decades, appearing at over 850 public concerts in 33 countries. His performances have taken him to almost every important music festival in India and dozens in Europe and the United States, including the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Silk Road Festival (Damascus) and Trafo House of
Contemporary Culture (Budapest).
He is also a recipient of the Toronto Arts Council Music and Audio recording grant for 2020, with a commission to record a new album featuring a few of his own classical compositions in three ragas.
Chakrabarty is a prolific teacher and some of his students are now beginning to make their mark on the concert stage.
Shahbaz began his grooming in the art of tabla at age five with his father, the late Ustad Mumtaz Hussain – a prominent vocalist. He later went on to study with tabla legends Ustad Faiyaz Khan from the Delhi Gharana (school), the late Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan from the Punjab Gharana and finally the late Ustad Allah Rakha Khan.
Shahbaz is an extremely versatile tabla player. He has mastered all the imperative traditional skills as well as the ability to project those skills to more contemporary styles. His solo performances have gained great recognition all over the world. He is also much sought after for his accompaniment skills by many of the great masters musicians of India & Pakistan – including Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, Ustad Shahid Parvez, Ustad Rais Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia and ghazal legend Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hasan to name but a few.
Shahbaz regularly travels across the world to present performances, including throughout Europe, North America & the Asian subcontinent. He has performed in many prestigious venues, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., Lincoln Center in New York and London’s Royal Albert & Queen Elizabeth Halls. His band, Indus, has received critical acclaim for their debut album Firefly and they continue to tour the UK & internationally.
Shahbaz is also passionate about passing on the knowledge of Tabla to others. He is a dedicated teacher and regularly teaches across the country, including at the University of Newcastle and the University of Huddersfield.
“Savitri is a strong, intelligent woman who is righteous and stands up for what she believes in. It’s empowering to play this goddess.“
Plans for the 2020-2021 season include his debut with the Toronto Symphony as Count Ceprano in Rigoletto with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and COC assignments in Carmen and Katya Kabanova. His Toronto Symphony debut and appearances in the COC’s Parsifal and Le Nozze di Figaro have been rescheduled due to the global pandemic.
His busy 2018/2019 season included his professional Canadian debut with Opéra de Montréal performing the role of Sparafucile (Rigoletto) and undertaking the title role of Sweeney Todd with the Curtis Opera Theatre. He debuted the roles of Leporello and Commendatore in the Opera Philadelphia/Curtis Opera Theatre production of Don Giovanni and continues his long-standing association with the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea, as Colline in performances of La Bohème.
Gabrielian is a recipient of awards from numerous organizations including the Metropolitan Opera National Council, Career Bridges Schuyler Foundation, Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation, Gerda Lissner Foundation, George London Foundation, and he was a Grand Finalist in the 2018 COC Ensemble competition. He is a recipient of the prestigious inaugural 2019 Gerda Lissner IVC Award.
A 2018 member of the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program, Gabrielian covered the roles of Bonze (Madame Butterfly) and Leslie Groves (Doctor Atomic) in addition to featured apprentice scenes from Rigoletto and Grapes of Wrath. In prior seasons, he has been featured at the Chautauqua Institute in performances of Ariodante (King), La Bohème (Colline), Rigoletto (Sparafucile), Die Zauberflote (Sarastro) and more.
A graduate of the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Voice and Master’s Degree of Vocal Performance under the tutelage of Marlena Malas and Armen Boyajian.
“The text of Sāvitri is open and about love. It’s both beautiful poetry and a parable.“
An exciting season in 2020/2021 is in the plans and includes Alfredo in La traviata for Calgary Opera, Elijah for Symphony Nova Scotia, Rodolfo in La bohème for Edmonton Opera and a recital for the Jeffery Concert Series of London, Ontario. These projects will be subject to health advisories caused by the global pandemic.
Haji’s 2019/20 season began with Alfredo in La traviata for Vancouver Opera, followed by Messiah for the Edmonton Symphony, Pollione in Norma for Calgary Opera, Rossini’s Stabat Mater with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for the Victoria Symphony. Appearances during the 2018/2019 season included Rodolfo in La bohème and Cassio in Otello for the Canadian Opera Company (COC), Bach’s Mass in B minor for the Amadeus Choir and Alfredo in Die Fledermaus for Saskatoon Opera.
In 2017/2018, the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern winner was heard as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore in Toronto for the COC and for Vancouver Opera, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for the Toronto Symphony, Messiah for the Grand Philharmonic Choir of Kitchener-Waterloo and the opening night gala at the Elora Festival. Haji is an alumnus of the COC Ensemble Studio and has also been heard at the Four Seasons Centre as Alfredo in La traviata and Tamino in Die Zauberflöte. During his time as a member of the Ensemble Studio, his leading roles included Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Ferrando in Così fan tutte.
The Salzburg Festival featured Haji in its production of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, his festival debut. For the Wexford Festival he starred as Hélios in Félicien David’s Herculanum and for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème.
Selected recent and upcoming concert engagements include performances of Haydn’s The Creation, Verdi’s Requiem, Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle, and Mozart’s Requiem, Great Mass in C minor, and Coronation Mass.
Andrew Haji holds both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music where he performed in productions of Les mamelles de Tirésias, Don Giovanni, Candide, Il mondo della luna and Rob Ford: The Opera, among others. He was invited to participate in young artist programmes at the Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project, the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, the Music Academy of the West and Accademia Europea dell’Opera where he was influenced by some of the world’s finest musicians. A native-born Ontarian, he has received awards from the Marilyn Horne Song Competition in Santa Barbara and the COC’s annual Ensemble Studio Competition.
“I am inspired by Sāvitri’s incredible devotion to her husband, and I relate to the story’s themes of love, duty, respect, and courage.”
SĀVITRI IN CONTEXT: AN OPENING NIGHT EVENT
A Little History
Sāvitri premiered on June 23rd, 2021, one hundred years to the day since this opera’s professional debut on June 23, 1921, at London’s Lyric Theatre.
Renowned English composer Gustav Holst—best known for the epic orchestral suite The Planets— became familiar with the legend of Sāvitri after taking an interest in Sanskrit, and translating several texts into English himself, stories which he then used as the basis for a number of his compositions.
Holst opted to write his own libretto for Sāvitri, interpreting elements that were fundamental to the story and which appealed to his Western sensibilities and European audience – themes of love, fidelity, and perseverance.
Flash forward to Canada today – how to approach a work like Sāvitri, composed by a British colonial who appropriated Indian mythology?
AtG and Sāvitri
On Sāvitri’s opening night, AtG hosted an online pre-show discussion with cast members and directors, hosted by AtG Collective member Amanda Hadi, exploring the creation of this production and mindfully introducing this film to our audience and supporters. Our mission with the AtG version of Sāvitri is to tell the story by embracing its history and origins.
The cast and directors of Sāvitri joined a pre-show conversation hosted by Amanda Hadi about how their stories and diverse heritages connect to this contemporary production.
Creative Thinking, Keeping Hope
For arts companies, these last couple of years have been filled with unprecedented circumstances; of drastic pivots and reinvention. Now is the time for a much-needed recovery for our performing artists and cultural institutions, who have been impacted by so many aspects of the COVID pandemic.
“I’ve been continuously humbled by how our artists and audiences have supported the arts during this challenging time— we’ve seen incredible creativity and resilience from both. At AtG we strive to support our artists and engage our audiences by experimenting with new forms of artistic expression. Thank you so much for your continued and spirited support! “
— Joel Ivany, Artistic Director of Against the Grain Theatre
AtG Theatre is proud to offer this contemporary production of Sāvitri which, explores themes of love, devotion, and hope, free of charge.
Directed and associate directed by visionary women, and starring a cast of talented Canadian voices in this brave and experimental take on Holst’s powerful opera.
As a small arts organization, we strive to showcase experimental works and diverse voices—and this means taking risks: creatively and financially. If you are able, please consider a donation to AtG, so that we can bring more outside-the-box operatic experiences to you and continue to provide employment opportunities to artists and artisans nationwide.
Giving Back to Indian Communities
As an organization, AtG recognizes we are producing an opera whose story was taken from Indian culture. With that in mind, we want to encourage our audience members to give back to South Asian communities in a meaningful and restorative way. Each of the following charitable organizations has been chosen by Director Miriam Khalil and Associate Director Simran Claire.
Right now, India is facing a nationwide crisis due to COVID-19. From CanadaHelps: “With an average of 300,000 new daily cases, hospitals are overcrowded, oxygen is running out, critical medical supplies are dwindling, and frontline workers are at risk. Scientists fear that a new and highly contagious COVID-19 variant is only making matters worse. The country’s healthcare system is overwhelmed and in urgent need of oxygen and other medical supplies to keep coronavirus patients alive.”
Education for Girls
“Project Nanhi Kali, which translates to ‘a little bud’ in Hindi, supports the education of underprivileged girls in India. Designed to support girls from low-income families to complete ten years of formal schooling, the project has impacted the lives of over 450,000 girls (called Nanhi Kalis) from underserved communities across the country. The project provides daily academic support as well as an annual school supplies kit, which allow the girls to attend school with dignity.”
Building Schools in North India
“Helping Hands for India is a charitable organization, managed by a dedicated team of volunteers, who are committed to providing educational opportunities and to promote well being to children in India.
We have built a school in the rural village of Pritamgarh, India, where yoga and meditation, play and outdoor education are included in the curriculum. Sansar Gyaan Pathshala, which means ‘World Knowledge Lessons’ is the name of the school. We can now accommodate 300 children at the school.”
Mental Health and Well-Being Supports for the South Asian Community
A note from Simran: I know first-hand how emotionally taxing the past few months have been for the South Asian community. Here in Canada, cities with high immigrant populations have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and on the Subcontinent, COVID-19 has caused utter devastation. Below is a list of mental health resources for those of us who need them. As my mom tells me, aapna thyaan rakho. Take care.
(Adapted from the Toronto District School Board)
University Health Network – Asian Mental Health
Community Family Services Ontario
Muslim Family and Child Services
ICNA RELIEF CANADA
South Asian Canadians Health and Social Services – SACHSS
COVID-19 Helpline for South Asians in the GTA
Mental Health Toronto
Centre For Addiction And Mental Health (CAMH)
South Asian Women’s Centre
South Asian Mental Health Resources (SOCH)