|Niloufar Talebi is a writer, award-winning translator, and multidisciplinary artist. She won a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship for her translations of Ahmad Shamlou’s poetry. Courtesy Jules Cisek and HuffPost.|
Ahmad Shamlou, the highly celebrated Iranian poet, is the inspiration behind a new opera, Abraham in Flames, conceived by creator/librettist Niloufar Talebi with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and director Roy Rallo. I spoke with Niloufar Talebi as she prepares for a sneak preview event at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on May 31, a multimedia presentation including sung musical excerpts from the opera, a selected reading of the opera’s libretto, and a visual collage of other material shaping the concept of the opera:
Omid Memarian: Who is Ahmad Shamlou and why is he the inspiration behind your opera?
Niloufar Talebi: Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000) was one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th Century in Iran. He was a poet, translator, essayist, editor, encyclopedist, and much more, with over seventy book to his name, a living encyclopedia of Persian folklore, several recordings of poetry recitations, and numerous translations of major literary works from several languages into Persian. Drawing from both Western and Eastern techniques and movements, he pushed the boundaries of Iranian poetics and helped usher it into its Modern forms. His life’s work was also devoted to the struggle for social justice. In other words, he was a cultural giant.
I had the privilege of knowing Shamlou from his participation in my parents’ literary salons in the tumultuous years after the 1979 revolution when Iran was besieged in war with Iraq, martial law, and uncertainties as the new Islamic Republic was forming after the deposition of the Shah of Iran. Shamlou is a world class artist who deserves a larger, global audience, one of my reasons for introducing him to new audiences through projects inspired by him. But also because I cannot help it: the extraordinary company I found myself in during my coming of age years had a lasting impact on me and still informs me as an artist.