Published Apr 15, 2017 09:17am

Pakistan’s first opera singer Saira Peter steals hearts in Islamabad

Perched on a stool in front of the mirror in the greenroom of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts auditorium on Friday night, opera singer Saira Peter was visibly excited before her performance.

Saira is Pakistan’s first opera singer, and brought the unique genre of Sufi opera to the capital for the second time. Joined by her music director Steven Smith and her family, Saira was all smiles. “I have performed in many places in the world but there is nothing like coming home. The love for my country and its people is the greatest motivation in anything I do,” she told Dawn.

Born in Karachi, Saira has lived in London for the last few years. She trained as an operatic singer under Paul Knight, who was a student of English composer Benjamin Britten, a legend in Western classical music. “I am proud to have trained under Paul Knight and think of him as my ustaad,” she said.

The unique genre of Sufi opera she performs is a true labour of love, bringing together her training in the western classical tradition of music and her love for Sufi poetry.

“Sufism is an important part of the Pakistani culture. Sufi poets such as Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Lateef Bhittai have woven beautiful messages of peace and love in their poetry and I wanted to bring this tradition to the West in their own musical language,” she said.

Saira is also the director of the Noor Jahan Centre in London, which has promoted Pakistani music and culture in London since 1998.

The performance began an hour late; with the management setting up floral arrangements as the hall slowly began to fill. However, the tardiness was soon forgotten with the first performance of the night by Balochi musican Qadim Hussain. The audience clapped along to the uplifting tunes of the beloved Balochi song 'Laila O Laila'.

Saira began her performance of the night with an English translation of Bhittai. The strength of her voice and her vocal range left many in the audience in awe. Her versatility as an artist and her multicultural roots were reflected in her comfort with the variety of genres she performed, ranging from Beethoven to Madam Noor Jahan.

After performing some songs from her latest album Resplendent, Saira sang Celine Dion’s 'The Heart Will Go On', a favourite among the audience.

Many members of the audience were pulled by their curiosity to hear an opera singer perform, due to the rarity of such performances. Audience member Vilima Judy Sahotra told Dawn she had brought her son to hear Saira’s performance because he is training as a gospel singer.

“Tonight’s performance was a treat for music lovers and an educational experience for those interested in Western classical music,” she said.

Saira was accompanied by a group of local musicians with whom she performed. Dholak player Jeevay Laal told Dawn he was honoured to perform with such a talented vocalist.

“Her form of music is truly unique, combining Western and Eastern traditions and instruments. Usually Sufi poetry is only accompanied by Eastern instruments and sang in the Eastern style, so adapting it to the operatic style is a true work of art,” he said.

Originally published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017

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Comments (13) Closed



Haider Apr 15, 2017 10:50am

Article would have been complete if a video was added to it...

Adeeb Apr 15, 2017 11:16am

Singing can only be judged by hearing and not by reading good about it.

PS Apr 15, 2017 12:11pm

Very brave of Saira Peter to sing in a country where radical islamists kill singers left right and centre!

God bless you Saira!

Raheel Ahmed Apr 15, 2017 01:41pm

An Artist have a great opportunity to elaborate the culture, and she did great job throw learn a opera or western classical music and introduce a opera music in Pakistan too with her Magical voice .

SK Apr 15, 2017 01:41pm

I searched the net - didn't find any news about her debut as an Opera singer on the international stage. I played a number of her clips available on the net - she fails to impress as an opera singer - even does not do justice to Madam Noor Jehan's songs. It is great to hear that someone is trying to bring opera singing to Pakistan - but unfortunately this is a mediocre talent.

Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY Apr 15, 2017 02:48pm

Saira Peter is truly worthy of praise for her talent as an Opera Singer unheard of in Pakistan. This proves that Pakistan has culturally entered the 21st century along with the other educated countries. Her reciting the Poetry of Shah Abdul Bhittai and Bulleh Shah in her singing also gives her a distinct Pakistani Singer image well versed in both western and eastern music.

sacha admi Apr 15, 2017 02:58pm

@SK thank you so much for your encouraging comments. Typical couch commentators. Please let us know what is your occupation and how you have achieved world fame in your chosen career.

sacha admi Apr 15, 2017 02:59pm

@Adeeb excellent point. Next time buy a ticket. Ever heard of movie or music album reviews? They are read not heard.

SK Apr 15, 2017 05:54pm

@sacha admi - You please take the trouble I did - and search all the opera academies in Europe and the US. Not very difficult. If you know anything about Opera - you will know that debutants are formally announced and recognized. Singing opera songs in neighborhood concerts does not make one an opera singer. If you find any new of her having performed opera in any one established opera - please let me know. I will happily apologize. Otherwise - let me tell you I have heard many opera singers and have indeed attended opera concerts - even in Vienna. Until you do your own research - please say quiet!

Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY Apr 15, 2017 06:41pm

@SK Why are you looking for perfection in a new Pakistani talent? I for one have never heard of a Pakistani Opera Singer. We must always encourage our new Artists and not discourage them?

sacha admi Apr 15, 2017 06:44pm

@SK Wow we are so impressed that you attended the event in Vienna. I can see that your response to criticism is to ask ppl to be quiet. Yet you have no problems spewing your negative views. Mate if you have nothing positive to say then please don't comment. We have enough of ppl like you who find flaws in everything. Appreciate the story for what it is or move on. I have taken more efforts than you would have. You are mistaking opera performances at selected opera houses with the number of opera singers. I never said that she is an established opera singer that sings at major concerts. Then again how many major opera singers are there in the world? Are we going to compare someone who is trained in singing operas with a few well-known names? Very poor form my friend. Very poor form

British Indian Apr 16, 2017 02:07am

"Born in Karachi, Saira has lived in London for the last few years."

If she loves her pakistan so much, why doesnt she live in pakistan?!

All pakistani cricketers live in pakistan and so do all pakistani politicians and actors -- but their hypocritical nature is extreme -- they all "talk" about their love for pakistan, but do not want to live in pakistan and want to live in London and UK! :)

ramesh Manghirmalani Apr 16, 2017 02:04pm

simply beautiful