Sukanya review at Royal Festival Hall, London – ‘at once personal and timeless’
After a brief tour, Ravi Shankar’s final piece of East-West crossover, billed tendentiously as his only opera, opens the UK’s largest festival of South Asian culture.
The plot is at once personal and timeless. Sukanya is the name shared by Shankar’s widow, mother to Anoushka (who helped flesh out the score), and a legendary princess who accidentally blinds a sage, marries him to make amends and outwits the jealous deities who want her for themselves. Sadly the mainly English-language libretto, patchily projected on surtitles, makes little of the coincidence, offering neither poetry nor psychological insight. It is left to the production team to point to parallels in what remains an escapist evening.
Remarkably, the platform successfully accommodates 55 players from the London Philharmonic and 20 black-clad BBC Singers, as well as a range of Western and Indian performers in gorgeous silks. The tiered layout allows for a central staircase of sorts, but the stage atmosphere comes mainly from evocative back projections and careful lighting. Despite the constraints, there is plenty of movement to delight the eye and Susannah Hurrell sings Sukanya with particular grace. The drawbacks include some inconsistent miking up of singers and a less tangible sense that the material needs greater intimacy. The fusion of American minimalist tropes with the rooted glitter of Indian harmony works well enough for one to hope for an early revival in a smaller space.