New York’s gang-rape opera – first review

New York’s gang-rape opera – first review


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2014

Kamala Sankaram composed and sang the lead role in the world premiere of an opera about a revenge gang-rape in Pakistan. Powerful and focussed, says New York Classical Review, whose critic is first on the scene. Read here.




  • This seems to be an easy politically-correct subject: we can all feel morally superior by deploring the victim in this work….. feeling appropriate indignation about such patriarchal barbarism… deplore the fate of women in muslem societies…..applaud the heroine for her standing-up against etc. etc. The ‘message’ is, undoubtly, that adversity can be overcome by etc. etc. – in short: black and white. I listened to some of ms Sankaram’s ‘works’ on You Tube…. and it is not art music at all, but simplistic, trivial, and very bad pop / folk entertainment music, and where she sings her own creations, one thing is blatantly obvious: she cannot sing, has no voice, and EVEN in relation to the usual level of ‘singing’ in pop music it is abyssmally bad.

    But to criticize such noble undertaking – she seems to be prone to themes of protest against the many injustices in the world – while they come from a woman, and a woman with an immigrant background on top of that, immediately will provoke accusations of being rightwing, intolerant, reactionary, WASP-inclined, denigrating, etc. etc….. So, whatever terrible crap this charming woman produces, she will receive well-meaning, tolerant, multicultural and politically correct reviews, like this one, and will be praised for her great musical talents.

    But what she does has nothing to do with art music and nothing with opera. For opera, one needs musical talent. The shocking thing is not what happens in ms Sankaram’s plot, but that it is treated as a serious work of art.

    • I realize I have the unfair advantage of actually seeing “Thumbprint,” her previous opera “Miranda,” and several other times where Sankaram has sung other composers’ music, and can assure you that none of your fears are justified. What she does has a great deal to do with art music, and opera, and she is a serious artist.

  • Interesting that the festival’s founders and directors are all women: Kristin ­Marting, Beth Morrison, and Kim Whitener. Even though its productions are smaller, Prototype will help fill the gap created by the loss of the NYCO’s Vox festival.

  • Andrew Rudin says:

    John Borstlap: you are wrong to categorize this opera as “simplistic, trivial, and very bad pop/folk

    entertainment music”. Yes, Kamala, like a lot of other young composers also has fun and writes

    for pop bands. But this opera, which clearly you’ve not seen or heard, is not of that vein at all.

    Shame on you for making this critique of a work you’ve clearly not seen. And your charge that

    it’s “black and white”, and that it shames another culture: It’s actually a quite nuanced dramatic

    situation, handled with considerable complexity and takes pains to draw attention to the fact that

    these same sorts of things happen also still in our own socitey. This work has a lot more to

    do with opera than a great many other works of recent vintage, most notably TWO BOYS. And

    for once, people really do SING something and not just plough through the text. What’s

    shocking? that you’d write these hateful things without having seen the work. Shame.

    • John BOrstlap says:

      It seems that tolerance towards something inferior is far greater than towards professional criqitue…. As I wrote, I have listened to some works by ms Sankaram and they were excruciatingly bad. But indeed, it may be that from such pen suddenly a masterpiece emerges, but the average level of what I heard made this very, very unlikely. My critique was especially directed to the politically correct assumptions surrounding that opera (a term which gets inflated by the day) and the naivety of subject and plot, which seemed to want to assure moral approvement A PRIORI. I do not think that is a thing to applaud. But again, I may be wrong and the music may redeem all this silly stuff, but then the music has to be of the level of a Mozart or Verdi or Puccini.

  • Last month, Opera America announced a program to support women who compose operas. The organization noted that although it has awarded $13 million in grants over the last 25 years, only 5 percent of its repertory development grants has gone to women. In the second year member companies will be awarded grants to commission and produce operas by women. More details in this article:

  • Gonout Backson says:

    Operas aren’t written by “women”. They aren’t written by “men” either. They’re written by composers. As the old saying goes : if you want a piece of art, hire an artist.