The epic poem Layla and Majnun is arguably the most famous love story in the Middle East, and yet many Westerners have never heard of it. It is the tale of two teenagers who fall deeply in love but are tragically kept apart, even until death. This September, the tale will come to life in an ambitious operatic production commissioned by Cal Performances and at least ten other organizations, including Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. The artists who have come together to build the opera form the ultimate dream team.
Torange Yeghiazarian, artistic director of a Middle Eastern–American theater company in San Francisco called Golden Thread Productions, sees this new production as a chance for audiences to connect with the Middle East on a different level. “It’s rare that you see the Middle East and beauty and art and love in the same sentence. It has been so vilified, and every day we are bombarded with images painting us as evil or painting the Middle East as something to avoid, if at all possible…. This poem is so passionate and inspirational, and the descriptions are so vivid, how it paints the surroundings and the lushness and ornateness of the space.” But most of all, to her, “These are human stories” that are important because they “provide a shared human experience.”