The traditional Middle Eastern story of Layla and Majnun gets a world premiere adaptation this weekend at Cal Performances, as the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Silk Road Ensemble collaborate in a staging with traditional Mugham singers from Azerbaijan, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova. It’s the tenth Cal Performances commission of a Mark Morris work, helping to launch their new season.
There’s more information about the production at the Cal Performances website.
The 7th Century Persian tale of the ill-fated lovers was made into an opera by Uzeyir Hajibeyli in the early 20th Century, using traditional instrumentation, and has been adapted by Silk Road Ensemble members Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, with singer Alim Qasimov. “Layla and Majnun, throughout the middle East, North Africa, South Asia, everybody knows this story, it’s part of the culture,” Mark Morris says. “The character is actually named Qays, Layla and Qays. But because he’s so… he’s driven mad by his love for Layla from childhood… He’s labelled crazy.” Because of his odd behavior, Layla’s parents refuse his request to marry their daughter. Morris wanted to set the piece in this multi-discipline form (sets and costumes are by the Bristish artist Howard Hodgkin) to help the rest of the world learn of this story. “It’s such beautiful, profound moving music, and wouldn’t suffer from staging and choreography, it would actually enhance it – and make it more comprehensible for a non-Azerbaijani audience to get the message of it, which is a message of course of profound, abundant, eternal love.”