'Intercultural rewriting' of Puccini's Turandot

Turan Dokht

Aft ab Darvishi, Miranda Lakerveld, Nilper Orchestra

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The opera Turan Dokht (‘Daughter of Turan’) corrects a historical inaccuracy. Composer Aftab Darvishi and director Miranda Lakerveld’s ‘intercultural rewriting’ of Puccini’s beloved opera Turandot (1924) returns the title character to her Persian homeland. In Puccini’s work she is a cruel Chinese princess who has all her suitors decapitated. The mystical Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) reveals that she was actually a queen of Turan. With this epic narrative and Puccini’s music in mind, the young Iranian Aftab Darvishi composed new music blended with authentic Iranian elements. Nilper Orchestra, the only chamber orchestra for new music in Iran, and mezzo soprano Ekaterina Leventhal in the title role will show Turan’s daughter as you have never heard or seen her before.

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background information

The opera Turan Dokht by Iranian composer Aftab Darvishi and director/librettist Miranda Lakerveld is set in 5th-century Persia.

A prince intends to choose a wife out of seven princesses, each of whom has a pavilion in a different colour. The red princess tells the story of Turan Dokht, presenting him with riddles to test his self-knowledge and moral virtue. This story forms part of the epic poem Haft Peykar (‘The Seven Beauties’) written by the 12th-century Persian mystic and scholar Nizami Ganjavi. It’s a mystical frame narrative in which the symbolism of the number seven plays a key role. The protagonist in the beloved opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini is based on this princess but, inspired by Carlo Gozzi’s version of the story, librettists Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni moved the story to China and made Turandot into a vengeful princess who kills her suitors. In Turan Dokht, composer Darvishi and librettist Lakerveld bring Turandot back to her origins. Where the princess in the Puccini operais a female Bluebeard, Turan Dokht is about an inner search for self-knowledge and humility. Puccini had already combined Eastern and Western elements in his opera. Darvishi, who was born in Iran and completed her music education in the Netherlands, takes this one step further. Her music for the Nilper Orchestra, which is complemented by Iranian percussion and a kamancheh (an Iranian bowed string instrument), is based on Western tonality, but with flourishes derived from Iranian music. Darvishi’s use of repetition gives voice to the mystical aspects of Nazimi’s text. The performance includes projections created by Siavash Naghshbandi based on the miniature paintings illustrating Haft Peykar.



Aftab Darvishi (Tehran, 1987) started taking violin lessons when she was five. Later on the kamancheh (an Iranian bowed string instrument) and the piano followed.

She studied music at the University of Tehran and composition at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, where her teachers included Martijn Padding and Yannis Kyriakides. She studied Carnatic music (classical music from southern India) with Rafael Reina at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, along with film composition. Darvishi’s music has been performed at festivals throughout Europe and Asia in collaborations with ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet and the Hermes Ensemble. She has created countless productions with various companies, including World Opera Lab. She performed at a number of festivals with KHZ kollektiv, the electronic ensemble headed up by Yannis Kyriakides, among them the Holland Festival. Since 2015 she has regularly been invited to give guest lectures at the University of Tehran. In 2017 the Kronos Quartet asked her to compose a piece for Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire. She has continued her collaboration with the quartet with a new piece for Music for Change – The Banned Countries. She lives in The Hague and in Tehran, where she is musical director of the multicultural organisation RooBeRoo Mansion.

Director and librettist Miranda Lakerveld creates stagings for opera and classical music in which the bringing together of cultures, religions and artistic disciplines is the guiding principle. She founded World Opera Lab with this purpose in mind. Important projects in recent years have included Orfeo in India (an adaptation of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo) in Ahmedabad, featuring European and Indian musicians and singers; Erda, an opera installation with music by Calliope Tsoupaki at the Dutch National Opera; De thuiskomst van Odysseus (‘The Homecoming of Ulysses’) in Amsterdam-West, with compositions by Monteverdi as well as traditional music from Morocco and Turkey; Majnun & Leyla, with music from Iran, Morocco, India and Turkey, and a series of debates and operas about conflicts in the Middle East in cooperation with the De Balie cultural centre in Amsterdam. She worked with documentary filmmaker Frank Scheffer on The Inner Landscape, a project about traditional Sichuan opera that combined film and live opera performance which featured at the Holland Festival in 2015. In 2017 she made Temple of Time with composer Sinta Wullur, which was also shown at the Holland Festival. Since 2011 Lakerveld has been researching traditional, religious musical drama in countries including Iran, Japan, China, Mexico and the Tibetan community in India. She has created three previous productions with Aftab Darvishi: Dance with the Seven Veils, Zeynab/Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut and The Sacrifice.

The Nilper Orchestra was established in 2006 by artistic director and conductor Navid Gohari to perform contemporary compositions. As the only ensemble dedicated to contemporary music in Iran, Nilper performs works by both Iranian and international composers, and regularly presents world premieres and Iranian premieres of contemporary pieces. The orchestra also brings together talented musicians and artists living and working in Iran, inviting them to take part in its projects. Ever since the orchestra was first established, it has performed two major concerts each year, with a repertoire that includes around sixty pieces of contemporary music to date. Nilper works with renowned composers and soloists from all over the world and invites them to present their work in Iran. The orchestra organises an annual festival for contemporary music. Under the auspices of the ‘Music for everybody’ project, the musicians travel all over Iran to bring together communities through contemporary music. Last year Navid Gohari and the singers Sara Akbari, Niloofar Nedaei and Tahere Hazafe, who all appear in Turan Dokht, received the Music Theatre NOW award for Prometheus/Plague, which was voted the best performance of the past two years.

‘Nilper’ means ‘lotus’ in ancient Persian. The flower symbolises peace and friendship – the way Iran has traditionally approached other countries.

World Opera Lab, established by Miranda Lakerveld, creates intercultural operatic performances, undertakes research and gives workshops. The productions transcend cultural difference and take the dialogue between different disciplines as their guiding principle. Societal issues are explored in a poetic way in a cross-fertilisation of the music and dance from various cultures. World Opera Lab’s work is inspired by research into traditional music practices from Tibet, Japan, Guatemala, India and Iran. The WOL has created various productions in the Netherlands (including for the Holland Festival) and beyond. In 2016 they entered into a collaboration with De Balie to create operas about urgent political topics such as the war in the Yemen. In 2017 WOL worked with Aftab Darvishi to produce the performances Dance with the Seven Veils and The Sacrifice. This year sees Turan Dokht premiered, initially in Tehran and then at the Holland Festival.




Aftab Darvishi
libretto, direction
Miranda Lakerveld
Navid Gohari
Siavash Naghshbandi
Bart van den Heuvel
Nasrin Khorrami
dramaturgy, text advice
Asghar Seyed-Gohrab
Ekaterina Levental (Turan Dokht), Arash Roozbehi (The unknown prince), Sarah Akbari, Niloofar Nedaei, Tahere Hezave
acting musicians
Yasaman Koozehgar, Yalda Ehsani, Mahsa Rahmati, Anahita Vahediardekani
music performed by
Behzad Hasanzadeh (voice/kamanche), Mehrdad Alizadeh Veshki (percussion) Nilper Orchestra
World Opera Lab, Jasper Berben
with support of
Fonds Podiumkunsten, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Nederlandse Ambassade Tehran

This performance was made possible with support by