From Afghanistan to Key West: "A Thousand Splendid Suns" Becomes An Opera

Nov 17, 2017

The women from the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns first came alive on stage in Key West, in a workshop version of the opera's first act. 


A Thousand Splendid Suns was Khaled Hosseini's follow-up to his bestselling first novel, The Kite Runner. Before writing A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini spoke with women in his native Afghanistan about what their lives were like. From that, in part, came a story about oppression and brutality against women, spanning generations.

Across the world, in New York state, the composer Sheila Silver borrowed the book on tape from the library, and as she listened, immediately imagined it as an opera. She was concerned the book might be too complicated for an opera; onstage, it would have been just two or three hours. But she couldn't shake the idea. She eventually asked the librettist Stephen Kitsakos to read the book, and they were convinced they could pull it off.

Composer Sheila Silver and librettist Stephen Kitsakos at a rehearsal for their opera, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," in Key West.
Credit Alicia Zuckerman / WLRN

Hosseini had two requirements when he gave Silver permission: that when the characters wear burkas in the book, they were burkas onstage (singing through a burka presented some challenges, but they figured it out), and that the Koran be handled with respect.

The opera is being developed with support from American Opera Projects, and the second act is about to have its premiere as a workshop performance this weekend in upstate New York (Nov. 18) and in New York City (industry performance, Nov. 19).

Act One premiered at the Studios of in Key West. You can watch that video here: 

Complete Act I, Scenes 1 - 5, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Key West Workshop from Hummingbird Films on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, when Kitsakos gets back to Key West, he's directing the world premiere of the play Here's Your Hat, What's the Hurry?Eric H. Weinberger's final work (he died in May). Then in April, he's directing two short works by Tennessee Williams, Green Eyes and The Traveling Companion, set in hotel rooms. All will be performed at the Studios of Key West

An earlier version of this post stated that the playwright's name on Kitsakos' current project is Eric Helmerich. His name is Eric H. Weinberger. We regret the error.