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‘Edalat Square’ Will Go On

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Opera about gay Muslims garners threats.

By Marene Gustin

EdalatSquare
An excerpt from Edalat Square at last year's festival.

Certainly Mozart never got threatening letters about The Marriage of Figaro. One doesn’t often think of soaring sopranos and serious consequences. But that’s just what the producers of this year’s Opera Vista Festival are dealing with, albeit rationally.

“We received a letter,” said Opera Vista co-founder and artistic director Viswa Subbaraman. “It was stenciled, not signed. It said, ‘You are pigs for mixing Islam with homosexuals. You must be stopped.’”

But R. Timothy Brady’s Edalat Square will go on. A nationally acclaimed 40-minute opera, which last year tied as winner of the festival’s inaugural competition and is this year’s opening night event on May 21, is based on the 2005 true story of the public hanging of teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni in Edalat Square in Iran for the Islamic crime of lavaat, or sex between men. Subbaraman said University of Houston officials have been made aware of the threat and that the Houston Police Department will be on hand for performances at the campus’s Wortham Theater Complex this month.

For the gay composer, it’s all a little unexpected, but not surprising.

“Actually, no,” said Brady from Atlanta. “I bumped heads with members of the Muslim community here, but we never had hate mail before. But I’m not surprised.”

Brady says Homeland Security got involved with the 2007 premiere of Edalat Square, requesting the guest list when they learned that MEK (People’s Mujahedin of Iran) was planning to attend. “I guess on an intellectual level I sorta knew,” Brady said. “But I’ve been doing GLBT activism since high school. I thought that was the controversy. This is not a comment on Islam.”

The opera, which the 23-year-old Brady spent a year researching, is told from the point of view of Asgari’s brother, Hassan, who may have been the one who reported the two boys to authorities. It incorporates Persian-style music, a Persian classical vocalist, an R&B vocalist and an abstract set with images of Persian art.

Subbaraman said the opera is emotionally powerful and forces viewers to think about the event. “The piece is easy to listen to, but it’s hard to take,” he said.

“The story hit home,” Brady said. “I guess I wasn’t aware they were executing minors and homosexuals. I’m against capital punishment. I feel a visceral connection to the gay community, and I guess, comparatively, we have it pretty good here.”

Brady has spent the last year away from composing, working on human rights issues and his organization Soulbird, which has taken him to Iraq, a Muslim country, for music and film festivals. “I’ve felt safe when I’m there,” he said. “But I keep the whole gay thing on the DL. Luckily no one there has been looking at my MySpace page.”

Activism for arts and human rights is a passion for Brady, but so is composing, and he would love to work on another opera. But just now, he’s looking forward to coming to Houston for Edalat Square, and hoping the opera will inspire tolerance and not hatred.

Opera Vista & Nova Arts Projects Second Annual Opera Vista Festival

Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, general admission
Opening Night Edalat Square by R. Timothy Brady

Friday, May 22, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, general admission
2009 Vista Competition Semi-finals

Saturday, May 23, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, general admission
Soldier Songs by David T. Little

Sunday, May 24, 2009, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $15, general admission
Zephyr Concert hosted by Huang Ruo

Wednesday, May 27, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15, general admission
Zephyr Concert

Thursday, May 28, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, general admission
Edalat Square by R. Timothy Brady

Friday, May 29, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, general admission
2009 Vista Competition Finals

Saturday, May 30, 2009, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, general admission
Soldier Songs by David T. Little and Awards Reception

For tickets, visit www.operavista.org.

Photo caption: Last year’s festival, during which an excerpt of Brady’s “Edalat Square” was performed. Pictured: Vanessa Beaumont, Daniel Buchanan, and Joseph Rawley.
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Photo Credit – Dave Nickerson
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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