One of the biggest theatrical wonders of its time, a French opera was peculiarly named The Fakir of Benares. It was 1922 and India was still under the British, with many colonies owned by the French East India Company. French composer and playwright Leo Manuel, who was deeply impressed by the charms Benares (Varanasi) cradled, wrote the piece as a tribute to the city. But the opera vanished from the scene soon after Word War II began; the music was known to have been destroyed. Its last documented show was in 1922 in India.
So when Aude-Priya Wacziarg discovered the score at a small Parisian music shop in 2002, she decided to bring it home. Her father, Francis Wacziarg, founder The Neemrana Music Foundation, turned it into an Indian production, one of the first, in 2004. Now, a decade and nine opera productions later, the Foundation is presenting an opera gala, a grand production that will showcase excerpts from all the other productions. This show marks their 10th anniversary.
The choir alone comprises 50 adults and 40 children, 10 soloists, accompanied by an array of dancers from three different dance styles — Kathak, modern ballet and Kalaripayattu. The production will also have over 500 costumes made by designers Muzaffar and Meera Ali, and Parvesh and Jai. The music will be played by a full orchestra of 50 musicians from across India and Europe. The excerpts include The Pearl Fishers (2005), Carmen (2008), If I Were King (2010), Mozart Magic in India (2012), and Romeo & Juliet in India (2014), among others.
“A opera of this scale has not been seen in India before. As hard as it has been to put it all together, it was great fun. We always thought that western classical music could grow in India, instead of being imported. After 10 years of training through workshops and scholarships, there is a complete section of Indian opera musicians who are brilliant,” says Priya, about the opera which has taken a year to create. Priya will also be one of the soloists in the show.
Since the Weightlifting Auditorium at JLN Stadium — the venue for the event — wasn’t equipped for an opera, they had to create the side wings, and a stage, get more lights and place two 33 feet screens for projections in the background.
The 10th Anniversary Gala Show will take place at 7 pm at Weightlifting Auditorium, JLN Stadium. Tickets are available at The Neemrana Shop, Khan Market and on Bookmyshow.com