22 - 28 August 2002
Issue No. 600
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Can't help lovingOld standards, up to scratch: Amal Choucri Catta listens to Neveen Allouba as she moves from the Titanic to Show Boat
Golden Oldies, Neveen Allouba, Open Air Theatre, Cairo Opera House, 12 August, 9pm
Neveen Allouba is made for the stage. She loves to act, she loves to talk and most of all, she loves to sing. One of Egypt's most favoured lyric sopranos, she has long found favour with audiences with her recitals and with leading parts in operas like Mozart's Le Noze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Verdi's La Traviata and many more at the Cairo Opera House and abroad. In later years she turned to musicals and, predictably enough, began to be hailed as the Egyptian Julie Andrews. And indeed she did sing the part of Maria in The Sound of Music, along with Anita in West Side Story. She has had star billing in Les Miserables, Cats, My Fair Lady and has successfully taken to the stage with a medley of much applauded evergreens.
Neveen Allouba is one of the very few performers capable of charming audiences out of their air-conditioned homes and into the grueling heat of the open-air theatre on a midsummer night, just for the pleasure of hearing her sing. Which is what she did last week, entertaining her fans with a remarkably vivacious performance, inviting them to listen to what she called a "pot- pourri of golden oldies", telling them when and how this or that song was born and giving the best of her brilliant soprano. She started with Barbara Streisand's "The Way We Were". The mood was wistful and tinged with sadness as her voice soared into the velvet skies. Visions, however, come and go, and the long-lost love disappeared with her second song, Paul Anka's and Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night". This time, love was here to stay, the tune was filled with happy thoughts and the diva had a field day with "it turned out so right for strangers in the night".
Love -- almost inevitably -- seemed to be the subject of the entire performance: it returned with the third song, Barbara Streisand's evergreen "Love that is shared by two and will grow for evermore." And yes, the lady is very much in love with love, at least tonight. Regardless of the rising temperature and of the heat of the spotlights, she gave wings to her voice, delving beautifully into a higher pitch. The audience was enthralled.
Suddenly the mood changed, love was still there, but it had turned mournful and filled with grief. "If I had a Hammer", and "Where have all the flowers gone" are songs of war and destruction. Here the high pitch of the key was unfortunate: the impact would have been stronger, more dramatic in a lower register. With such songs it would be wiser, perhaps, for Allouba to forget that she is a lyric soprano and adopt a flatter, smoother pitch. Anyhow, we were back in the right key as Barbara Streisand's "People" came along. "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world", sang Neveen. All performers need people and up there on the stage, our singer was visibly happy with the response of her audience. Maybe that was the reason why she suddenly turned Latin. "Quando quando", sung in Italian, reminded us of Perry Como and the good old days when songs were always romantic and melodies flawless. Then came "the Boy from Ipanema", the Latin heartthrob who doesn't care about the girls though when he passes, "each girl goes: 'Aahh'". She would gladly have given him her heart, "but every time she smiles, he doesn't see". A schmaltzy narrative sung with pep and delightful exuberance. In similar mood Allouba switched to Spanish -- "Besame Mucho, each time I cling to your kiss I hear music divine". And yes, she did give us music divine, though that was before she went to New York where she planned "to make a band new start of it," belting out "New York, New York".
Salaheddin Abdallah produced some tantalising chords on the piano; Hazem Abdel-Kader maintained a vivid drum beat and Ahmed Osman delivered perfect rhythms on his double- bass while the flautist Murad Heshmat, had the purest of tones. Yet the unconventional instrumental quartet would have been much improved had the musicians been placed closer to each other. The singer needed to be much closer to the piano, with the flute on her left. Neveen Allouba had to stop the performance twice, apologising to the audience, saying there was something wrong with the sound-track, and all because she could not hear the piano. And that, as every singer knows, is a recipe for disaster. Allouba was right in deciding to interrupt the performance, even though this may not have been to the liking of those listeners who did not understand the technical importance of her decision. In any case, there was no harm done, and the concert resumed beautifully.
Neveen Allouba's simplicity on stage, her casual, debonair way of addressing the audience, her ease and, above all, the fun she patently derives from performing, have always been infectious. She was always more of a delightful tomboy than a slick femme fatale; nothing artificial or affected, her spontaneity never fails to win the sympathy of her audience. And on this night, as always, everyone loved her.
She began the second part of her two-hour concert with "My way", pensively musing over all she had done: "The record shows, I took the blows, and did it my way." Then she snapped out of mood to give a lively version of "It's impossible for the sun to leave the sky, it's impossible to ask a baby not to cry"; and love was suddenly there again, with the title song from the film Titanic. "My heart will go on and on", to which the flute played the loveliest of tunes. Romance lingered in the air with the next song from Evita, "You must love me", with Neveen meditatively singing "we had it all, you believed in me, I believed in you." Another quick change, as romance was thrown to the wind for "I'll never fall in love again".
"When you kiss a guy, what do you get? You get pneumonia, you get enough tears to fill an ocean". A funny song, sung with wit and breathtaking rhythm from the musical "Promises". But such promises were soon forgotten as she turned to "Dona Dona", a song of freedom with "winds that were laughing with all their might and swallows that were flying in purple skies".
The memories, though, will return, not least with the song of that title from Cats. We ended with Mary Hopkin's "Those were the days my friend", a generational anthem if ever there was one. But the audience wouldn't let her go, and she graciously gave us an encore. "Can't help loving that man of mine", from the musical Show Boat, and suddenly love was there all over again...
Letter from the Editor
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