Eleanor Knight, who teaches on the Creative Writing MA, wrote the libretto (words) for the short opera Silk Moth, which premiered at the Nour Festival of Arts in London in 2015.
Silk Moth runs at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney from 9–11 August. Part of the theatre’s ‘Grimeborn’ season, it weaves together Arabic and Western music traditions and explores honour crime, family violence and female (dis)empowerment in Britain and beyond.
Eleanor had previously penned the words for an opera about Jean Rhys as part of the Royal Opera House Exposure season in 2012, among other librettos. She got involved with Silk Moth after responding to an online advert that read: “librettist wanted.”
Eleanor was hired for the role after meeting with the opera’s composer Bushra El-Turk and original director Michael Moxham.
As part of their preparation work for the opera, Eleanor and Bushra visited the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation to meet and talk to women who had escaped honour violence. They recorded the conversations and paid attention to how the women spoke of their experiences. Eleanor also read about cases of honour crime in newspapers.
An estimated 5,000 women every year are murdered by members of their families in so-called honour killings around the world. Writing in the blurb of the opera’s original run, Eleanor said: “Honour violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings are part of an unspoken code wherein the social standing and financial interests of the immediate and extended family are inimical to women’s autonomy, and where the value of men is invested in the chastity of their womenfolk.