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ITHACA, N.Y. — Opera Ithaca presents the regional premiere of Thumbprint, a 90 minute English-language contemporary opera from composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Susan Yankowtiz about Mukhtar Mai and her heroic fight for women’s rights in Pakistan.  

Thumbprint is inspired by the true story of Mukhar Mai, the first female victim of gang rape to bring her make attackers to justice in Pakistan. In lieu of a financial settlement, Mai requested the construction of schools for girls. She hoped to educate the young that they may be saved the humiliation of signing their names with only their thumbprint. Mai, uneducated and illiterate, was the first student at her own school and has gone on to provide education for countless Pakistanis. The libretto by Susan Yankowitz originates from a series of interviews with Mai and explores the deep family ties and tribal traditions that led to Mai’s astonishing acts of courage. The score by Kamala Sankaram is a dynamic collision of Hindustani musical tradition and virtuosic operatic singing with an ensemble of seven singers and six instrumentalists.

Thumbprint was developed by Beth Morrison Projects and had its world premiere at NYC’s Prototype Festival in 2014. Opera Ithaca will present the second production ever of the opera prior to the work playing Los Angeles Opera, the fourth largest opera company in the United States, later this season.

 Yamuna Meleth stars as Annu and shares the personal significance of working on this piece, “Thumbprint to me is about standing in the face of adversity and bigotry and using something like fear and uncertainty to create a bigger and stronger force and that is love and expression. I think especially right now with the political climate it is really important to stand together and to be a beacon of light for those of us who feel it has maybe been dimmed in the last few weeks. I know that my purpose in working through this score and bringing it to the stage is to create a safe zone, to create a space where for at least a couple of hours you can lose yourself in music and know you are not alone.”

Thumbprint stars Smitha Johnson as Mukhtar Mai, Yamuna Meleth as Annu, Broadway’s Evangelia Kingsley as Mother, Suchan Kim as Father, John-Andrew Fernandez as Faiz, Ithaca’s own Christian Henry as Shakur and Jake Stamatis as Imam. Susannah Berryman directs with choreography by Mary Corsaro and music direction by Richard Montgomery. Anna Grigo and Evan Hawkins return to Opera Ithaca to design costumes and lighting. Olivia Ohlsten stage manages as part of a collaborative program with Ithaca College Department of Theatre Arts where students receive course credit for stage managing Opera Ithaca productions. The orchestra includes Richard Montgomery, Brian Adler, Liz Shuhan, Linda Case, Max Buckholtz, and Christian Chesanak.

The performance of Smitha Johnson as Mukhtar Mai is sponsored by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Fingerlakes.

Composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Susan Yankowitz will participate in an audience talk-back following the December 2nd opening night performance alongside Raza Rumi representing Ithaca City of Asylum and cast members of the opera. 

Opera Ithaca’s production of Thumbprint will play the Hangar Theatre December 2nd and 3rd at 8pm and December 4th at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$30.

For tickets and more information, please visit or call 607-273-ARTS

Opera Ithaca was founded in 2014 by Zachary James and Lynn Craver. Opera Ithaca has presented Bluebeard’s Castle, the professional premiere of Il Sogno, the world premiere of Billy Blythe, Don Giovanni, Die Fledermaus, Masquerade and dozens of concerts, community outreach and educational events. Later this season Opera Ithaca will present Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and Rossini’sCinderella.