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I want to exhibit Pakistan’s bright image to the world, says Opera singer Sarah Peter

Opera music has resemblance with Sufi music of East.

Although Opera and Sufi music sound different,but they have same values of cultures for both regions. Saira is the master of both type of musics and she has abilities to perform this music. She claims that she is the sole founder of this genre of Sufi_Opera music.

Saira Peter is a trained opera singer with deep interest in history, anthropology and Eastern classical music. What sets her apart is the manner in which she has mingled  Sufi-classical music with opera. Icon sat down with the London-based diva on her recent visit to Karachi for the launch of her album, Resplendent. This album is about the teachings of Sindh Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.

I had spent my childhood in listening  and singing music in  different churches. Legendary Paul Knight was my ideal. I had always imitated her in music. The legacy was passed on from there.

On why she chose opera, Peter explains, “Classical music is the music of the minority. My vocal coach saw my ability to sing on different pitches and hence he encouraged me to improvise in this domain. Let me also reiterate that opera is a very technical form of music.”

“During its Sufi day celebrations I performed at the Urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai at Bhit Shah. The custodian of the shrine Syed Waqar Hussain Shah asked me to spread Sufi kalam in western music through opera in order to introduce the teachings of Bhittai and it led to the birth of Sufi-opera.”

Regarding technicality of operatic music, Peter describes it as “complicated form” of music. “It requires a lot of practice,” she says. Since, I am a science student, it was easy for me to understand it because it tells you much about human physiology. In opera, you sing at a high pitch. I follow mezzo soprano and soprano,” adding that her opera inspirations are Handel and Puccini.

The idea of combining Sufism with opera came about by sheer coincidence. “I was judging a Pakistani show called Voice of Sindh,” I thought a new form of sufi music should be introduced to people . I worked for implementation of this plan and finally succeeded in it.

“Both genres are quite similar in the fact that they stress on social cohesion. In fact, the ‘squeeze’ of opera is peace and as I mentioned earlier, it is very technical. It requires excessive practice and temperament. Western opera has scales while Sufi-classical has raags.”

Unsurprisingly, Saira Peter is an opera instructor. She is the director of the Noor Jehan Arts Centre in London, operational since 1998 when it was inaugurated by Sir Cliff Richards. So far Peter has performed before German, British and French audiences and plans to travel to the US soon.

Steven Smith is my fiance. He is prominent music composer. We both have plans that we will make new Sufi opera mixed songs together in which teachings of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai would be preached.

Saira credits her fiance that she has always supported me. She was with me on first album of my music.. They include Taufiq Qureshi (percussionist/rhythm arranger for Bhool Bhulaiyaa), Shikhar Naad .


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Hamza Jaffery

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