Set in contemporary Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns is an intimate and inspiring story about women living behind the veil.  It tells how the power of love enables two women to transcend and survive the horrific brutality and repression in which they live.  From different walks of life and twenty years apart, each is forced into marriage with the same troubled and cruel man. Cold to one another at first, they grow to find consolation and courage in each other as the damaged nation around them mirrors the violence and confusion of their own household.  Striving for a better life for themselves and their children, their acts of sacrifice and heroism reveal the indestructible bond of love that binds them together, like mother and daughter.

Music by Sheila Silver
Libretto by Stephen Kitsakos
based on the international best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini

Together, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns have sold more than 10 million copies in the United States and more than 38 million copies worldwide in over 70 countries.

Composer’s Statement: 

I wanted to write an opera about these women because I fell in love with them – their courage, their heroism, and the depth of their humanity.   As Americans awaken to the complexities of non-Western cultures, both their beauty as well as their undersides, this opera will give Western audiences an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of a country and culture that is much in the news, but which many know little about.  Audiences will discover that the human spirit can survive and transcend the most challenging of circumstances.


Sheila Silver received a 2013 Guggenheim, and an Opera America Discovery Grant for Female Composers for development of A Thousand Splendid Suns.  With her development partner, American Opera Projects, the project has also received an NEA Development Grant and was recently featured in Opera America’s  New Works Forum in New York City, where 25 minutes with full orchestra was presented at Trinity Church.  The second workshop which included all of Act I (funded by NEA)  took place in Key West Florida in partnership with the Studios of Key West.  Director Leslie Swackhamer and conductor, Sara Jobin, continue their collaboration with Silver and Kitsakos for the third and final workshop which will take place in November 2017 at the Hudson Area Library and the National Opera Center in NYC.  This is being funded in part by grants from the NEA, the Berkshire Taconic Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.  Seattle Opera received a 2017 Opera America Commissioning Grant funded by the Virginia B Toulmin Foundation for Sheila and plans to premiere the opera in Spring, 2020.  Explore Sheila’s blog about the path of this opera — dating back to its beginning. 

Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This emotionally gripping story takes place over a forty-year span in war-torn Afghanistan – from before the Communist era through civil war, the Taliban, and the arrival of American troops. A love story, it is also an honest representation of the treatment of women in Afghanistan, especially under the Taliban. The action focuses on two women from very different backgrounds and a generation apart: Mariam — the rejected and impoverished illegitimate child of a wealthy provincial man, and Laila, the beautiful, lively, and modern daughter of an enlightened middle-class scholar and teacher.

When she is fifteen, Mariam, forced into marriage with forty-year old Rasheed, moves to Kabul to start a life with her husband. Hopeful at first, she is unable to conceive, and lives a loveless existence with a husband who abuses her regularly.

Years later, when bomb explosions kill the parents of fourteen-year-old Laila, Rasheed brings the wounded girl to his home and Mariam nurses her back to health. Laila is a ravishing beauty and Rasheed schemes to get her to marry him by concocting a story that her beloved fiancée, Tariq, has been killed. Hoping to create a save haven for Tariq’s child with whom she is secretly a few weeks pregnant, Laila agrees to marry Rasheed.

At first Mariam is cold to Laila, but gradually the women bond in their care for Laila’s baby and their hatred of Rasheed, who continues his “sanctioned” abuses. The two wives attempt a daring escape from Kabul but are caught, escalating Rasheed’s psychological and physical abuse.

The turning point comes when Tariq, still alive, returns to Kabul to find Laila. Rasheed learns of Tariq’ visit to the house and in an act of extreme rage, begins to strangle Laila. Mariam, after years of abuse, refuses to stand silent any longer, and to save Laila’s life, hits him with a shovel, killing him. Mariam convinces Laila and Tariq to flee with Laila’s two children so that Mariam alone will bear the responsibility of Rasheed’s death, knowing that she will be sentenced to death. As she walks to her execution, her understanding of her life brings her spiritual peace as she discovers, for the first time, her own self worth.

The transformation of Mariam and Laila as they develop a loving mother-daughter relationship, their sacrifices for one another, their perseverance, and their acts of bravery under the harshest of conditions make them powerful Islamic heroines.

The opera is structured in two acts which take the audience from Herat in Western Afghanistan into the houses, markets, and prison of Kabul. It offers opportunities to incorporate multi-media including authentic news broadcasts and documentary footage.

Conceived for 4 principals with several supporting roles which can be double-cast, the opera requires a minimum of 13 singers including two children, one of whom sings. It will be scored for full orchestra (30+) which includes bansuri (bamboo flute) and tabla (Indian drums)and we may also create a reduced chamber version for an ensemble of 13.

DOWNLOAD SYNOPSIS: Synopsis of 1000 Suns

DOWNLOAD PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Project Description**- A Thousand Splendid Suns, June 2015

DOWNLOAD CAST LIST: full cast list with table.4

DOWNLOAD LIBRETTO: (coming shortly)

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