An Iranian doctoral student’s opera will be performed at a prestigious festival in London today.
Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour lived in Iran until the age of 13, moved to Denmark and continued his education in the UK. Since 2010, he has been working on a PhD in musical composition at Brunel University London.
Although he has been researching “contemporary chamber opera, the conflicts about this musical genre and its lack of an audience”, the course also involved the composition of a 70-minute opera, with an English libretto based on a short story by the Iranian Modernist writer Sadegh Hedayat.
The Doll behind the Curtain, explains Mr Tafreshipour, is “set in the 1930s” and describes “a young man’s fascination with a silent statue behind a boutique window” he sees in Le Havre. He decides to take it back to Iran, “where his infatuation and inner conflict leads him to an act which will destroy his own life and the life of his fiancée who has struggled to compete with her silent rival”.
This also reflects the composer’s own “journey”, since for the past 18 months he has frequently returned to his native country. He now divides his time between the UK and Iran, “running the composition course at the University of Teheran, building bridges between musical communities and waiting for the political circus to calm down”.
The work is written, Mr Tafreshipour goes on, for six singers, a dancer and 11 musicians – woodwind, string and “a very difficult harp part”. The style is largely “British Modernist, but the second act takes place in Iran, so the music becomes more flavoured but not exotic. It is modern Western music with an Eastern flavour.”
There are few if any operas written by Iranians or with Iranian subject matter. It is also highly unusual, if not unique, for an opera by a doctoral candidate to be taken up for public performance beyond the student's own institution. But Mr Tafreshipour’s work proved to be so good that it now forms part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at King’s Place in London, which is mounting more than 40 new works over three weeks and continues until 9 August.
There are already plans for further productions in both Toronto and New York, and Mr Tafreshipour also hopes he will be able to put together a team of British musicians to take the opera to Iran.