Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour: The Doll behind the Curtain
Jonathan von Schwanenflügel, Per Bach Nissen et al; Athelas Sinfonietta/Eirik Haukaas Ødegaard (BIS)
Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour
The Doll behind the Curtain
Jonathan von Schwanenflügel, Per Bach Nissen, Signe Sneh Durholm, Maria Dreisig, Elenor Wiman, Thomas Storm, Jacob Bloch Jespersen; Athelas Sinfonietta/Eirik Haukaas Ødegaard
BIS BIS-2596 (CD/SACD) 68:42 mins
Widely celebrated as one of Iran’s first modernist writers, Sadegh Hedayat (1903-1951) struggled with alienation amidst the social problems benighting his native land. Eventually returning to Paris, his student home, he committed suicide aged just 48. In The Doll behind the Curtain (2015), Iranian-Danish composer Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour (b1974) explores through his own, distinctive modernist idiom the still-pertinent cultural clashes depicted in Hedayat’s Persian short story of that title, Arusake pošt-e pardeh.
The succinct English libretto is by Dominic Power: Mehrdad is due to return to Tehran and his long-arranged marriage to Bita following studies in Paris. However, caught between east and west, tradition and modernity, honour and immorality, he becomes obsessed by a female mannequin clothed in green silk and a blonde wig. As the psychosexual crisis deepens, Jonathan von Schwanenflügel proves vocally supple as the conflicted student, supported by a committed cast and 11-piece Athelas Sinfonietta under Eirik Haukaas Ødegaard.
Yet the journey is uncomfortable for more reasons than Tafreshipour might intend. It portrays a literal, toxic male gaze solely as a symptom of male trauma; the objectification of women seems merely incidental to the agonies of a protagonist whose freedom to question his identity would be inconceivable were he female.
Of course Mehrdad’s life – and his family’s – is ruined in the process. But it’s Bita (the excellent Signe Sneh Durholm) who pays the ultimate price; an outcome which today feels all the more horrifically ironic in light of current Iranian crackdowns on women who fail to observe male-prescribed dress-codes.