The upcoming performances of Verdi’s Aida scheduled for four evenings at the Cairo Opera House remind us of the significance of this work and the history of its grand performances in Egypt
Published in Ahram Online
With no doubt the opera Aidais among the best known works by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. It is also one of the Egyptian audiences’ favourite, considering its thematic content as well as performance history draws international attention to this grand work and Egypt.
Usually a large-scale production, Aida recalls ancient Egyptian history and mythology, setting the stage with monumental sets of temples at the Nile River shores, Egyptian high priests, Ethiopian slaves, large crowds and even camels and elephants.
Originally composed to premiere in Egypt, today, opera Aida gains the high interest of international audiences and has become a staple performance of many renowned opera houses. Every month news of adaptations of Aida filter through from Europe, Asia, the Americas or Arab countries. The Arab world always proves to have a particular interest in Aida, with many Egyptian singers and conductors returning to this work on several occasions, on both Egyptian and international stages.
Among interesting recent updates, let us have a look at the new season 2012/2013 opening of the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman, which hosted the Warsaw National Opera performing opera Aida on 12, 13 and 14 September. In July, Aida opened the annual Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, in Otsego County (New York, US) with the orchestra conducted by Egyptian conductor Nader Abbassi. Another significant performances of Aida involved Ashraf Sewailam, the talented Egyptian bass-baritone, singing the role of high priest Ramfis in Virginia Opera’s production of Aida performed in October 2011 in Norfolk, Richmond and Fairfax (Virginia, US).
Composed to the libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni and based on a story written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, commissioned by the Khedive Ismail Pasha, Aida was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on 24 December 1871. Conductor Giovanni Bottesini led the opera and since then the Khedieval Opera House served as the home for Aida performances in Egypt, hosting many international soloists and conductors.
The opera house burnt down in 1971 and Aida went through many years of instability. It had to wait until September 1987 to be performed at the pyramids as a mega production with over 1600 artists on stage. The event was repeated for eight consecutive nights, attracting total of over 27 thousand spectators from Egypt and all around the world. Hassan Kami, tenor, former artistic director of the Cairo Opera Company and executive director of Opera Aida Production was in charge of the opera’s productions in Cairo.
After the performance at the pyramids, the opera went back indoors and was performed on the stage of the newly-built Cairo Opera House in Zamalek. It was in 1994 that Aida started taking place with the Deir Al-Bahari Temple, Hatchepsut Temple in Luxor as the backdrop. Terrorists attacks on tourists at the feet of Deir Al-Bahari in 1997 – just one month after one of the performances of the opera was held there – halted further performances in Luxor.
The opera was moved to Cairo and it was performed behind the pyramids in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Even though 2001 performances of the opera Aida at the Pyramids were expected to attract over 26 thousand spectators throughout six consecutive evenings, 11 September attacks in the US made it difficult for the organisers to proceed with their plans of October performances.
The opera returned to the Cairo Opera House where it remained until 2009. It was in 2010 that Aida, once again, was held in the pyramids area and was performed at the Sound and Light location, with the pyramids and Sphinx as the backdrop. Although it no longer had a sufficient budget for a mega production and suffered of many logistical and sound problems, the organisers included three guest singers during four consecutive evenings.
This year’s production of Aida is directed by Abdel-Moneim Kamel and includes artists from the Cairo Opera Company; Cairo Opera Orchestra conducted by Nayer Nagui; Cairo Opera Ballet Company with choreographer Erminia Kamel; Cairo Opera Choir and A Capella Choir with choir master Aldo Magnato. The opera will be performed during four evenings at the Cairo Opera House’s main hall. Aida will be first operatic performance of the Cairo Opera Company this season.
Aida this year features two guest artists: Elena Baramowa and Fabio Andreotti will perform along the soloists from the Cairo Opera Company: Iman Moustafa, Walid Korayem, Moustafa Mohamed, Emad Adel, Hala El Shaboury, Jolie Faizy, Abdel Wahab El Sayed, Reda El-Wakil, Gihan Fayed, Dalia Farouk, Tamer Tawfik and Ibrahim Nagui.
21, 23, 24, 25 September, 8:00pm
Cairo Opera House Main Hall, Zamalek