February 21, 2011

Azar Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ now a chamber opera

AUniversity of Maryland doctoral student and composer, Elisabeth Mehl Greene, has set SAIS faculty member Azar Nafisi’s bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran to music.

A free informal performance of Greene’s chamber opera took place Friday night in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and was followed by a discussion with Nafisi, Greene and opera director Leon Major.

The opera score draws inspiration from both the popular and folk music traditions of Iran, as well as music reminiscent of the literature discussed in Reading Lolita in Tehran, including Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like the blending of past and present literary work in the novel, the music melds sounds from diverse geography and history into the contemporary opera form.

The libretto, co-written with Iranian-American poet Mitra Motlagh, retells Nafisi’s experiences teaching Western literature after the Iranian Revolution, first in the classroom and then in secret to a group of young women students.