Opera on Benazir Bhutto

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WASHINGTON: Benazir Bhutto, one of the most popular Pakistani politicians will be honored next year with an Opera play done in the US. Based on the celebrated politician’s life and death, the play will serve as a reminder of the popularity of the female politician in Pakistan as well as all the glass ceilings she shattered by becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan twice, therein becoming the first woman to head a democratic government of a Muslim nation.

Mohammad Fairoz who has previously done work on Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim as well as on Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli will be helming the production. The opera sadly features two white leads, Nathan Gunn and Kate Lindsey, instead of any Asian person in the roles of Benazir Bhutto and her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. British Pakistani author Mohammad Hanif, however, is also helping create it. Hanif is famous universally for his acclaimed novel on General Zia ul-Haq, A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

“The opera focuses on Benazir Bhutto’s extraordinary life and the influences upon her, and the effect that her stand for women and their ability to lead has had on the world stage,” Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn stated to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The first murmurs of a play being made around Bhutto were heard two years ago, with the play being set to premiere this year, however, it looks like the Opera will finally see the light of the day in 2019. Mohammad Fairouz, the composer of the project revealed how he had started thinking of Bhutto as the protagonist, six years ago:

“Everybody has an opinion about Bhutto. It’s often very personal, very passionate. As a composer you feel compelled to do something — and then you’re like an animal sniffing at truffles trying to uncover why it’s interesting. When you write an opera, you have to start with research to find out why the story or idea compels you so much.”

Hanif, when asked to join the project, was delighted to do so.

“I knew nothing about opera of classical music. I was, of course, familiar with Bhutto as I grew up living in that reality. Growing up, you either loved them or hated them. As soon as [Mohammed Fairouz] suggested Bhutto as an opera I said yes. It’s a bizarre story, really over the top for a novel. The father was hung, one brother poisoned, one brother shot … It’s a perfect fit. Really, each family member could have their own opera. We’re telling a story. It’s a family story that centers on power. It’s not intended to be divisive, but it’s political, so of course, it will be. But that’s not a bad thing.”

The play entitled Bhutto will no doubt raise quite a few eyebrows next year, and Hanif’s remarks seem to allude to towards that. But it’s also quite easy to see, given how tragic the fate of the Bhuttos was, why they would be the perfect central pieces for something as theatrical and grand as an Opera.

According to reports on The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , this opera was supposed to launch in 2018 but was quietly postponed for financial and artistic reasons; it is now set to debut in the 2019-20 season.