End of season
A new conductor, old formats, and promises of revision: Amal Choucri Catta enjoys her farewells
Moment Musical, Small Hall, Cairo Opera House, 6 July, 9pm
Orchestras, singers, choirs, soloists -- they have all been busy bidding musical farewells to the 2003-2004 season. Cairo Symphony Orchestra's last concert, though, managed to be both a goodbye and hello, goodbye to the season and hello to the Cairo Symphony's new principal conductor, Christoph Mueller from Switzerland, who is taking over from Sergio Cardenas, who is departing after completing just one season. Cardenas introduced local audiences to Mexican composers, and Mueller will probably follow suit with Swiss composers.
For his inaugural concert Mueller gave us a very interesting divertissement by Jacques Ibert, followed by Robert Schumann's cello concerto with the excellent Kamel Salah El- Din as soloist, while the second part of the concert was dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn's A-Major Symphony No 4. The audience was particularly enthusiastic over the Ibert as, it seems, was the orchestra, which appeared to be enjoying each of the varied sequences of the tale of the Italian straw hat that is eventually eaten by a donkey.
Cairo Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Nader Abbassi, said their own farewell to the season with a gala concert with the optimistic title "The Best of the Season", playing the overture to Johann Strauss' operetta The Bat, Brahms' first Hungarian Dance, two melodies from Bizet's second Carmen Suite, as well as from L'Arlesienne. Abbassi also gave his audience a Slavonic Dance from Dvorak and closed with that most beautiful of tunes, Nina's Waltz from Khatchaturian's Masquerade. It is a marvellous farewell tune, filled with awe and sadness and tender words of hope.
The second part of Abbassi's programme was dedicated to melodies by Omar Khairat. The author of Al-Obour symphony and Arabian Rhapsody, he is perhaps best known for his film and incidental music. He took the audience on a positive roller-coaster ride, moving from The Storm to Moon face, from Serenity of the Night to The Miser via One Hundred Years of Cinema.
The most recent of all farewell performances, though, was Moment Musical, a programme first organised 10 years ago by the late Carmen Zaki, one of the best sopranos to grace the stage of the old opera house. She had appeared in productions for many years and when the old opera succumbed to the devastating flames she pursued her career at the Gumhouriya Theatre, which became a temporary opera venue with a brief season. When the new opera house opened its doors on 10 October 1988, she was not among the chosen few. However, she did not despair but decided to use her musical know-how otherwise: as professor at the Cairo Conservatoire she had a number of students who were rarely given the chance to perform. She thought it would be a good idea to have regular performances at the Opera's Small Hall in order to give the youngsters the opportunity to show their talent to a larger public and to gain experience of the stage. Her idea was approved and performances started: under the title Moment Musical they concentrated mainly on the promotion of younger singers and musicians, though in order to attract audiences one or two well known faces were generally included among the young talents.
After the death of Carmen Zaki Moment Musical was taken over by her friend and colleague, mezzo-soprano Violette Makar, who added to the young talents promising students of the Conservatoire. As with all programmes, this one had its ups and downs, its highlights and its disappointments, though it remained popular among audiences. A few months ago, though quite why remains unclear, Moment Musical passed into the hands of Hassan Kami, advisor to the director and head of the Opera's lyrical department.
While Moment Musical's performers were bidding the season farewell, Kami told me he was planning a change: in the coming season the programme will probably be getting a new name. Plans are to showcase a one-act opera at each performance -- Menotti's The Telephone and Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor among the likeliest contenders. The idea is worthy, though what remains to be seen is the execution, which will hopefully be starting with the new season in September.
In the meantime the performers on stage bade their own farewells with songs from films and musicals. Standing in a row they began with "Fame", from the musical by Gore and Pitchford. Then came mezzo-soprano Jala El-Hadidi who "dreamed a dream" from Boubil and Schoenberg's Les Miserables. "He slept a summer by my side, he took my childhood in his stride," she sang, while the sadness of bitter-sweet memories filled the air and some of the audience sniffled. "Bring Him Home" from the same musical came next, with Elhamy Amin, the fascinating Papageno from Mozart's Flute, suddenly turning dramatic. He moved from a pianissimo that sounded like the softest of prayers to a fortissimo that could cause pandemonium in heaven.
Reda El-Wakil came along singing about the stars being the sentinels of the heavens, while soprano Nevine Allouba and tenor Tamer Tewfik sang about "a little fall of rain": "Don't you fret, Monsieur Marius," Allouba sang with a jocular undertone before turning romantic and dreaming of "sleeping in your embrace at last while rain will make the flowers grow". Then she walked away, leaving Tamer Tewfik with the "empty chairs and empty tables, now my friends are dead and gone". The melody soared to fabulous heights.
Time to change the tune and move from Les Miserables to something lighter. Dalia Farouk struck out with "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" by Robin and Styne, from the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. With Marilyn Monroe starring, no one would have dared look elsewhere. Farouk was convincing, and even more so in the second part of the concert when she sang "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story. She did this superbly. And sweet and tender she remained while singing her duet with Elhamy Amin -- "Tea for two and two for tea, just me for you and you for me alone". She even was planning to raise a family singing "Can't you see how happy we will be."
Nayer Nagui, at the keys, is an extraordinary musician and a remarkable organiser: his idea of having songs performed simultaneously by more than one soloist was entertaining. We had solos, duets, trios, quartets and the entire group closing the concert with a ravishing version of West Side Story 's "Tonight". Elhamy Amin went on to sing about being a rich man ( Fiddler on the Roof ) while Nevine Allouba returned to memories of "The Way We Were". She followed that with "What I Did for Love" from Chorus Line. It is a tune Allouba sings to perfection. We also had, inevitably, perhaps, "Ole Man River" from Show Boat, splendidly sung by Reda El- Wakil: "I get weary," he sang "and sick of tryin', I'm tired of livin' and feared of dyin', but ole man river, he just keeps rollin' along." His voice rang out a pitch higher, loud and clear, while the audience shouted their bravos. It was a wonderful farewell concert.