A spoonful of arias opens the Cairo Opera Company new season

Cairo Opera Company opened new season with a bunch of famous scenes from the best-known world operas

Published on Thursday 29 Sep 2011 in Ahram Online and Al Ahram Weekly

The event brought together nearly the entire corps of the company’s singers, performing arias from operas by Gioachino Rossini, W.A. Mozart, Georges Bizet, Manuel Penella, Giacomo Puccini, Alfredo Catalani, Johann Strauss, and Franz Lehar.

From amusing opera buffas such as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) and tragicomic Don Giovanni to more realistically based classics like Bizet’s Carmen, Puccini’s La Boheme orTurandot… the evening performed on 22, 23 and 25 September included 23 arias from 13 works – the perfect recipe for an unforgettable operatic experience.

The singers who  took part in the evening (in alphabetical order) are: Abdel Wahab Elsayed (Bass-Baritone), Amina Khairat (Soprano), Amr Medhat (Tenor), Aya Shalaby (Soprano), Dalia Farouk (Soprano), Elhamy Amin (Baritone), Emad Adel (Baritone), Ezzat Ghanem (Bass-Baritone), Gihan Fayed (Soprano), Hala El-Shaboury (Mezzo), Ibrahim Nagui (Tenor), Iman Mostafa (Soprano), Injy Mohsen (Soprano), Jacqueline Rafick (Soprano), Jolie Faizy (Mezzo), Mona Rafla (Soprano), Mostafa Mohamed (Baritone), Ramez Labbad (Bass-Baritone), Rasha Talaat (Soprano), Reda El Wakil (Bass-Baritone), Sara Anani (Soprano), Taheya Shams El-Din (Soprano), Tamer Tawfik (Tenor), Walid Korayem (Tenor).

Their sheer number testifies not only to the company’s wealth but also to the importance of this art in Egypt’s music scene.

Opera performances have been staged in Cairo since the mid-19th century yet it was the official opening of the old Cairo Opera House that gave rise to a solid company that included many talented Egyptian singers. Among the first names that shone in Egypt’s operatic world were Ratiba El-Hefny, Amira Kamel and Violette Makkar, and they were soon followed by an array of younger talents.

In the programme notes Hassan Kamy, Artistic Consultant of the Chairman of the Board of the National Cultural Centre, states: “today, the Cairo Opera Company’s repertoire includes 32 opera productions with a permanent ensemble of 32 artists whose refined skills cover opera works from Baroque to Verismo. Some of these artists have performed on the most renowned opera stages of the world.”

No doubt, many these singers’ resumes bear evidence of outstanding success, having performed notable roles at the Cairo Opera House stage and abroad.

Gihan Fayed, soprano, is possibly the most remarkable voice of all. She has a clear and even vocal texture which, as she demonstrated in aria “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Puccini’s Turandot, carries the same effortless strength in low and high notes.

Mona Rafla as usual, gave us her unique melodious accents in the duet from Penella’s El Gato Montes sung with Walid Korayem. Dalia Farouk’s delightful colour was topped with a large dosage of wit that fitted perfectly “Mein Herr Marquis” (The Laughing Song) from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Rasha Talaat coped very well with “Die Holle Rache” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute showing masterful control of her voice.

Jolie Faizy’s interpretation of “La Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen stressed the character’s flirtatiousness, while Iman Moustafa’s untamed soprano once again demonstrated its power in “Vilja” from Lehar’s The Merry Widow. And even though Reda el Wakil and Moustafa Mohamed are among those always hiding pleasant surprises, while Elhamy Amin’s acting abilities stand out at all times, the ladies were no doubt the heroines of the evening.

But opera is not only about singers alone. Opera is a mother of all arts; it is a combination of a number of artistic forces: music, voices and theatre. Its dynamism and passion can be fully experienced only through coherence, harmony and order. It is left to a team of the dedicated professionals to create the artistic order: in the absence of even one of those elements, the best production risks tumbling down.

The Cairo Opera Orchestra conducted by Nayer Nagui together with the Cairo Opera Choir would have given a convincing performance. With the conductor’s earnest efforts, the musicians’ sporadic flaws remained insignificant in the face of a bigger drawback of the evening: absence of the director.

Though Saad must have created some interesting works in the past, in a number of the recent operatic productions, as director he is literally non-existent. The singers were repetitively left to their own sense of space and movement, trying to incorporate the characters. Scenography and accessories found no use in any of the scenes. The choir was never organized on stage and it eventually became irritating in the final “Brindisi”, aria for tutti from Verdi’s La Traviata, when the soloists were lost in the absence of even basic stage coordination.

With all the improvements needed from the director’s side and the singers trying to cope with the material as per their individual capacities, a general sense of fatigue dominated the performance. With the new operatic season only just starting, hopefully the spirit will lift.

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