Phoolan Devi Opera

January 25, 2013
9:00 am
Dartmouth, Cal State in the US, in Toronto and Sri Lanka
Wesleyan University
Phoolan Devi Opera
Premasiri Khemadasa

Jeff Hush, a former Shakespeare scholar from UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago (1985-94), has written the libretto for Phoolan Devi Opera; the composer is Gayathri Khemadasa, from Sri Lanka, a recent Fulbright Scholar at Wesleyan University in Connecticut (2011-12). Hush and Khemadasa have been collaborating on performances and charity events since they first met in Prague in 1997. The first phase of the Phoolan Devi Opera project ran from March 2011 until the world premiere in Middletown, CT, on May 12, 2012 (cast and crew of 40). As the leader of the project, Hush made the key dramatic, financial and production decisions; Khemadasa was in
charge of music. They want the story of Phoolan Devi to shine. Their whole project is a rejection of her portrait from the biopic Bandit Queen (1995), which shows Phoolan, first, as a victim of rape, and, second, as a revengeful monster. The opera is based largely on Phoolan Devi’s autobiography (1996), a poetic and nuanced portrait of a girl driven into banditry by a bullying cousin, unjust community leaders, and corrupt police.
Hush is currently under consideration for a Fulbright Scholarship to go to India and Sri Lanka to further develop Phoolan Devi Opera. He wants to meet Indian artistic groups and academics to find out how they perform and market socially provocative works, how they perceive Devi, and what tales and songs about her are in circulation.
The Khemadasa Foundation has invited Hush to Sri Lanka to build a multi-ethnic youth troupe—Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims—to perform Phoolan Devi Opera. This troupe will be the second phase of the PD Opera Project. There are two main goals in this phase: first, to bring together underprivileged youths from the formerly warring ethnic groups to create an artistic community based on trust and open dialogue; second, to spread this trust and dialogue around Sri Lanka by performing across the island.
Hush produced a yearlong series of Phoolan Devi events, including a film series at Wesleyan in April 2012. The PDO team created performances of Phoolan Devi Opera (from October 2011 through May 2012): at Wesleyan, Dartmouth College, Cal State, Long Beach, Toronto, Brewster, MA, and a video for an Activist Conference on Music in London. Hush wrote a cover article on the opera’s evolution: “Gayathri Khemadasa and the Phoolan Devi Opera Project” for The Journal of the IAWM (International Alliance for Women in Music), vol. 18, no. 1, 2012: 1-6 (see also <a href=”” ></a>).
Professor Theodore Levin, the ethnomusicologist who produced the Silk Road Project with Yo-Yo Ma, wrote to support this opera after it came to two of his Global Music classes at Dartmouth College: “The very interesting production concept—performing the opera in Sri Lanka and India with local singers—is as compelling as the music. ‘Phoolan Devi’ merits broad creative, technical, and financial support, and I offer my strongest endorsement of Gayathri and Jeff’s brilliant work.”

Copyright 2010 Premasiri Khemadasa Facebook, Design by Ruwan De Silva | Website Curator: Anupa Khemadasa | Text: Jeff Hush