Phoolan Devi Portrait

Portrait of Phoolan Devi

Phoolan Devi: The Bandit Queen is a multi-media chamber opera by Shirish Korde, with a libretto by playwright Anusree Roy, and directed by Tom Diamond. The semi-staged opera receives its world premiere in the Spring of 2015.

The opera is a riveting dramatization based on events in the life of the notorious Phoolan Devi, an iconic woman in modern India.  Born into poverty, sold as a child bride, abducted by bandits, abused and victimized, imprisoned, elected to India’s Parliament and then tragically gunned down in the streets of New Delhi in 2001, Phoolan Devi was just 37 at the time of her death. Through a series of musically compelling and visually stunning scenes, the opera explores real (and re-imagined) events in Phoolan’s short life. Anusree Roy, brilliant and award winning playwright/actor, brings to life the woman who many believe to be a victim of violence, while others believed her to be a criminal turned politician or a modern day reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga!

Shirish Korde’s compelling score, a distinctive synthesis of Asian and contemporary Western classic traditions, captures the power of Anusree Roy’s evocative libretto. The performers are set against a backdrop of stunning visuals created by multi-media artist Raphaele Shirley, and the opera is expertly directed by the internationally acclaimed opera director Tom Diamond.

This innovative new opera has been evolving gradually, beginning with a song cycle commissioned by The Da Capo Chamber Players in 2006. Anne Midgette, writing in The New York Times commented:

“The showpiece of the evening was the 100th composition commissioned by The Da Capo Chamber Players since its inception: Phoolan Devi Songs by Shirish Korde… This is a colorful, attractive piece, set on a lush bed of amplification… an entertaining stylistic fusion… with the kind of vivid exciting performance that draws western composers to non-Western music…”

A second song cycle, Songs of Ecstasy, commissioned by the Fromm and Jebediah Foundations, was premiered by the Boston Musica Viva in 2008. This second cycle of songs, which would evolve into the opera, was also enthusiastically received.  Matthew Guerrieri, writing in The Boston Globe noted:

“…with its soaring operatic vocal lines against dense, glittering harmonic masses in the six instruments provided the evening’s most satisfying performances.”

Next came the first staged performance of the opera, a workshop presentation of scenes from the opera in Boston in 2010. Presented in collaboration with Richard Pittman and the Boston Musica Viva, under the direction of Lynn Kremer, the evening was enthusiastically received by Boston audiences and the press alike:

“Korde augments BMV’s six player core with three Indian musicians whose contributions were particularly lovely: the composer mixes Indian traditions, Bollywood exuberance, Asian pop and contemporary music with lush aplomb.”
Matthew Guerreri, The Boston Globe

“Shirish Korde’s brilliant multi-media chamber opera is a work of art but also succeeds in creating new sights and sounds by blending Eastern and Western music and Dance. Overall the effort was amazing. The story of Phoolan requires the hands of a master… with so many elements in the opera, creating a seamless presentation that leaves the audience asking for more…kudos to Korde for this brilliant work”
Ranjani Saigal, Lokvani

Leading to the world premiere in June 2015 have been workshops in Massachusetts and Toronto and concert presentations in Pennsylvania and New York.

Composer’s Note

Phoolan Devi’s story raises difficult and universal questions about violence and women. I felt that no single vocal style – opera, jazz, etc. – could accurately represent Phoolan Devi’s complex character. For this project, I have chosen to create a work that draws from a variety of styles, including opera, Indian classical singing, jazz, and hip hop, among many others. The music for Phoolan Devi: The Bandit Queen is based on Sanskrit Vedic chants, folk songs from Rajasthan, rhythmic compositions (bols) for drums and dancers based on onomatopoetic sounds, and scat singing using the Indian sagram system (Do-Re-Mi-Fa). – Shirish Korde