Clarice Assad

The Disinherited


A Review:
Niloufar Talebi: profilic geo-artist
21 June 2014
The best artists practice craft instinctively, expressing themselves as an extension of their culture, and changing that culture with the force of those expressions. When the culture spans continents and geo-political boundaries, there exists an additional vector of emotion, an overlay of longing for the source, and assimilating (or contesting) the destination. Niloufar Talebi lives on the edge of that vector. Her libretto for "The Disinherited," the one-act opera premiered at Symphony Space last Monday, dramatizes the love for Iran, her ancestral homeland, as filtered through world events seen from her adoptive European and American surrounds.
In telling the story of Mina and Bahram, their 11-year-old son Arya, and Bahram's brother Shayan, Ms. Talebi offers a poignant view of personal and national conflict. Declamations of love, separation and betrayal hover over composer Clarice Assad's piano reduction of a score certain to accede to the ensemble or orchestra. We hear echoes of Stravinsky and Persian
tonality - Scheherazade against Les Noces - as Mina ponders the danger of letting Arya stay in Iran. Because of the war with Iraq, boys his age are being drafted to walk through and clear minefields.
Shayan has left a note containing information about smuggling Arya out of the country. Bahram discovers Mina searching for the note, and we hear their unfolding predicament in a duet: "What is the future of our country? Damned if we stay, damned if we go." "I want Arya to live." In a near-Wagnerian interlude, the phrase "keep dreaming" floats over tonal dissipation.
Ms. Talebi extracts lucid imagery from a spare mise-en-scè€ne, setting the image of "chilling mountains of Zagros" as backdrop for Arya's possible emigration. We never see the boy, but the torment of his parents and uncle, infused with political and then sensual overtones, reveals the underlying symbolism. Arya is Iran, the alliteration but one clue to his identity. In the second scene, when Bahram visits Shayan in his university classroom in Tehran, to mitigate his brother's intrusion into Mina's emotions, the political overtones lurk behind a suspenseful tonality that lacks resolution. "Our country is broken" is as important a statement as "Sorry, I have overstepped."
The third scene encapsulates the turmoil. Shayan has convinced Bahram that Arya should be smuggled out of the country, but Mina has had a change of heart. When Bahram tells Mina that she could go with Arya, and that he would follow later, their duet personifies the struggle of patriotic loyalty against personal safety: "If our boy stays home, he could be drafted. If our boy leaves home, he could freeze to death."
We understand Mina's change of heart when she reveals a secret to Bahram, her time with Shayan at a Caspian seaside villa: "We lost ourselves."
The family torment plays out:
"All these years, I have been an outsider in my own life." "Nothing is real as it seems."
"We cannot turn back time. I would, if I could, erase that afternoon." "He will never know. Mina you will leave Iran without Arya." "I have no future here. I want Arya to live. Goodbye, brother."
The climactic trio resonates with despair: "All we have is Arya," and we see that Arya is a stand-in for Iran, that his questionable lineage reflects the passage of Iranian culture from the languid serenity of the seaside villa to the treacherous minefields that might cause his death.
Niloufar Talebi ( is a gifted librettist, poet, performer and translator. In "The Disinherited," she presents an homage to Iran that is all-consuming. As Martin Scorsese tells us, "The artist's job is to get the audience to care about your obsessions." Niloufar Talebi infuses her story with truth and beauty, a wonderful obsession indeed.

WHERE: Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space
WHEN: Mon, Jun 16, 2014 7:00pm
TICKETS: $20; Members, Seniors, Students $15; Day of Show $25


The place is Tehran, Iran, in 1983, post-1979-revolution and during the Iran-Iraq war.


MINA SAFAVI (Mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel)
BAHRAM SAFAVI (Bass-baritone Adrian Rosas)
SHAYAN SAFAVI (Tenor Glenn Seven Allen)

Scene one: MINA SAFAVI is looking frantically for a note that her brother-in-law, SHAYAN SAFAVI, has given her and her husband, BAHRAM SAFAVI. The note contains contact information for smugglers, which SHAYAN has suggested MINA and BAHRAM contact to arrange for their 11-year old son, Arya, to be smuggled out of Iran in order to avoid being drafted into the Iran-Iraq war, where young boys were enlisted to walk over and clear minefields. BAHRAM discovers MINA searching for the note, and asks her to let him care for his family. MINA questions whether they, and the dream home they have been building, could ever be safe in Iran. Both MINA and BAHRAM are torn about the terrible decision that has to be made. MINA secretly decides to send Arya away, while BAHRAM resists it. 

Scene two:
BAHRAM visits his brother SHAYAN in his classroom at the University of Tehran in order to convince him to stay out of his private life, and talk MINA out of her decision. SHAYAN does not relent, worried that his career and life are in danger in the new post-revolution Iran, and insisting that it’s the best course of action for the survival of their family. The two disagree. SHAYAN finally asked BAHRAM to put himself in MINA’s shoes, and convinces BAHRAM to decide in favor of smuggling.

Scene three: BAHRAM, a changed man, returns home and informs MINA of his change of heart. MINA now resists smuggling, pointing out all the dangers involved. BAHRAM insists that it’s a better option and that MINA could go with Arya, after which he would follow. MINA insists she wants to keep Arya in Iran, and a family secret is revealed. Shocked, BAHRAM questions everything. SHAYAN, who has stopped by, overhears this, and the three of them are faced with a crucial moment of truth impacting Arya’s and their fate. 

American Lyric Theater (ALT) presents InsightALT: Opera In Eden, a concert of one-act operas developed by Resident Artistof ALT's Composer Librettist Development Program.

Opera in Eden will feature four operatic fantasies on temptation: The Disinherited by composer Clarice Assad and librettist Niloufar Talebi, Enchantress by composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Rob Handel; Arrangement by composer Elizabeth Lim and librettist Jerome A. Parker;  and The Resurrection Engine by composer Evan Meier and Librettist EM Lewis.

Guest singers include soprano Katherine Guthrie; mezzo soprano Sarah Heltzel; tenor Glenn Seven Allen; baritone Kyle Guglielmo; bass baritone Adrian Rosas; and music director Jody Schum.

Composer/Librettist Mark Adamo will moderate the evening, along with ALT's founder and producing artistic director, Lawrence Edelson.

Niloufar Talebi: profilic geo-artist | woodylewis