Opera is such a powerful way to say something
The Southern Voice reports: Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution Iran, an estimated 4,000 people have been executed for the crime of lavaat, or sex between two men. One particular execution captured the attention of R. Timothy Brady, a 21-year old music composition major at Emory University, while he was studying abroad in Italy during the summer of 2005. It was the case of Mahmoud Asgari, 17, and Ayaz Marhoni, 16, who were publicly hanged in Edalat Square on July 19, 2005, after they were accused of being lovers. “I’m gay — that could happen to me,” Brady says. “It doesn’t matter that they’re Iranian or they’re half way across the world, it still really hit home.”
A year later, when choosing a topic for his senior honors project, the boys’ story still haunted Brady, and became his inspiration for the project, “Edalat Square: Opera in One Act.” Brady, a Gwinnett County native, based his opera on Asgari and Marhoni’s executions, setting the story inside the head of Asgari’s brother, Hassan, who is “imprisoned in pain and memory.” The setting of the opera is abstract and barren, reflecting Hassan’s torment, Brady explains. The horrifying photo below shows the actual execution, and is from the Iranian Student News Agency via Wikipedia.
Rather than a traditional set for “Edalat Square,” Brady instead chose to project images of Persian artwork on stage. Brady juxtaposes post-revolution, modern Persian art with the inherent homoeroticism present in some classical Persian art. He explains that there is “this love for other men in their culture that is really denied today. Look,” he continues, “you have this in your culture, you should embrace it.”
Brady incorporates other non-traditional elements in his 40-minute opera, a form he chose for the piece because, he says, “Opera is such a powerful way to say something.” He utilizes a Persian classical vocalist and an R&B soul vocalist, as well as two more traditional opera vocalists. The ensemble also includes a traditional string quartet, conductor, an actor with a speaking role, and a tape controller, who incorporates noise elements into the performance.
To prepare for the composition of the opera, Brady immersed himself in Persian culture. He listened to Persian music, read Sufi poetry, and spoke to many local Iranians. However, Brady was cautious not to simply appropriate what he learned. “I didn’t want to take their music and put it in the opera and say, ‘Okay, this is mine,’” he explains. “What I wanted to do was incorporate their aesthetics.”
In January, Brady attended the Iranian Human Rights Symposium in Toronto, organized by IRQO, the Iranian Queer Organization, a grassroots effort to “defend the rights of Iranian LGBT people against social and civil injustice.” It was there that Brady made contacts that will help him further the reach of his opera. The University of Toronto will host a screening of “Edalat Square” in May, and the opera will air on Sirius Satellite’s OUTQ radio station as well as a local station in Vancouver.
While Brady has found some support in the Persian community, he has also received e-mails from some who feel the opera is anti-Islamic. He is quick to note that his work has no anti-Islamic sentiments, but is instead a political piece commenting more on the strict Iranian government who, according to Brady, has hijacked Islam. “We keep talking about, ‘Oh, the nuclear bomb!’” Brady states. “That’s not really the problem right now. The problem is human rights issues.”
Brady, who used to be more traditionally involved in GLBT activism, sees his opera as a form of activism. “In 2004, 2005, after the election, I became disenchanted ... I wanted to think of other avenues to express myself socio-politically,” he says. “I thought this would be a good way to continue my activism in an artistic manner. It’s a better way that I can express myself.”
As for what’s next for Brady, he plans to attend graduate school for composition, and to pursue a career as a composer and producer. For now, though, he wants people to be moved by “Edalat Square.” “I hope people will walk away being spiritually affected, not just emotionally, but I want something deeper,” he explains. Brady hopes that Asgari and Marhoni’s story will continue to live within the audience “long after the lights go down, long after the music is forgotten.”
* Visit Timothy's Myspace page here.
Now read about another topical contemporary opera that reached primetime TV.
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