Amid flowers and confetti
Amal Choucri Catta reviews a year of musical offerings
It is time, once again, to say goodbye to the old year and to welcome the new with hopefully promising events, spectacular shows and, inevitably, the occasional disappointment. Audiences at Cairo Opera House, as at all concert venues, have come to enjoy the valuable performances and accept the lesser ones: one cannot always have perfection and a performance lacking perfection is better than no performance at all.
The year 2006 started beautifully with the return of the sylph and the Royal Danish Ballet giving us three marvelous nights of La Sylphide, choreographed by August Bournonville to the music of Hermann Severin Lovenskiold. January was not yet over when Cairene audiences enjoyed their next dance performance with Cairo's Ballet Company giving us an enchanting version of Mikis Theodorakis's two-act ballet Zorba, choreographed by Lorca Massine, with the A Capella Choir, and the Opera Orchestra conducted by Ivan Filev.
The ballet ran into February and was then replaced on the main stage with two operas featuring betrayed husbands: Ruggiero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci and Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Risticana, with the orchestra at its best under Nader Abbassi's stimulating baton and the dramas transferred from their Sicilian settings to the Upper Egyptian Sa'id, replete with Egyptian coffee-houses, wicker chairs and white-washed dovecotes.
While March winds were blowing and springtime was slowly settling in the Syrian Enana Dance Theatre presented Julia Domna for three nights at the Main Hall. The lady of the title was spouse to the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and a leading patroness of the arts. The show was as interesting as it was unusual, evoking a time when deities were masters of the earth. Then in March the dancing was at its best for six nights with the fabulous "Virsky Dance Company" from the Ukraine and their 60 extraordinary dancers giving local audiences unforgettable thrills.
April brought springtime dancing with Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, choreographed by Joseph Russillo, and Dances qu'on croise by Thierry Malandin, both beautifully performed for five nights by Cairo Opera's Ballet Company, with the orchestra conducted by Nader Abbassi. In April we were likewise given the Seventh Dance Theatre Festival, which opened with In the eyes of the Night, a disappointing spectacle by Karine Saporta. The festival was scheduled until the end of May at the Opera's Small Hall and the Gomhoureya Theatre; it included companies from five different countries, giving audiences ample time to see a variety of forms of dance theatre. Summertime finally knocked at the opera's door with a naughty pantomime from Korea. It was an enchanting performance, with masks and veils and all kinds of exotic paraphernalia: a pleasantly amusing spectacle that paved the way to the following show, Mozart's two-act opera Don Giovanni, directed by Walid Aouni and performed by Cairo Opera's lyric company. This was not naughty, but somewhat chaotic avant-garde. It seems, however, at this point that the Opera's bosses were running out of ideas: the Rite of Spring returned in June and Don Giovanni in July. Both had been submitted to some advantageous changes: they brought, nevertheless, a sense of deja vu.
August was, as usual, reserved for summer concerts with the Open Air Theatre showcasing more Oriental than Occidental music, attracting a large number of listeners. September introduced the new operatic season with the dreariest of opening nights for one of the most exciting operas, Verdi's Aida, a huge production with somewhat disappointing performers and too many children running around during the show. The mood changed, however, for several dances from traditional ballet productions, including Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker, Adam's Giselle, Delibes's Coppelia, Minkus's Don Quichote and Gottschalk's Night of the Tropics : the lovely spectacle was presented by the National Ballet of Cuba, under the title Magic of Dance, for three nights at the Main Hall.
With autumn leaves falling and the days dwindling in length, October arrived with a phenomenal show at the Pyramids' Sound and Light Theatre: Henrik Ibsen's drama Peer Gynt with music by Edvard Grieg, to mark Ibsen year, commemorating the centenary of his death. The fabulous show was organised and directed by Norwegian Bentein Baardson, presenting 90 musicians from Cairo Symphony Orchestra, 70 members of the Cairene A Capella Choir, six soloists from the Norwegian National Opera, six main actors and 18 performers from Norway. With three different stages, excellent sound and light systems and some magnificent dancing, singing and acting, the show was the most sensational to be staged on the Giza plateau. But dancing was not over yet: in November we finally applauded Prokofiev's long awaited Romeo and Juliet, performed by Cairo Opera's Ballet for four nights at the Main Hall. With Ahmed Yehia as Romeo, Katia Ivanova as Juliet and Hani Hassan as Tybalt, the show was bound to be a success.
Children were not forgotten in December: the Ukrainian Kharkov Children's Ballet Company gave local youngsters and adult viewers five colourful performances of Wizard Harry and the Snow Queen, as well as a Gala concert executed by young instrumentalists. In December opera returned with Puccini's Tosca and from the 24th of the same month until the 30th, audiences have been enjoying Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker by Cairo's Ballet Company. A charming spectacle for Christmas and the coming feast.
Cairo's Symphony and Opera Orchestras presented audiences with a number of brilliant concerts during the year, beautifully conducted by Steven Lloyd, Nader Abbassi, Christoph Mueller and other maestros. We were also treated to an evening with Gilbert Kaplan and Mahler's second symphony, as well as to Nayer Nagui's Twilight Melodies, the Baden Wuerttemberg Youth Orchestra and to a brilliant concert by the German Brass and the Austrian Spirit of Europe. We also applauded virtuoso soloists including pianists Ramzi Yassa, Magda Emara, Philip Martin, clarinetists Mohamed Hamdi and Dimitri Ashkenazy, cellist Ayman El Hanbouli, violinists Salma Sadek and Yasser El Serafi, flautist Inas Abdel-Dayem, and others. On December 31st Cairene audiences will applaud the yearly New Year's Concert, inaugurated several seasons ago by maestro Ahmed El-Saedi, one of Egypt's foremost conductors. As always, we shall enjoy a full house while Cairo Symphony Orchestra, under the brilliant baton of Steven Lloyd, will receive a standing ovation. There will be Christmas trees and flowers and lots of confetti pouring down from the ceiling on to the joyous musicians and their happy audience. Silver bells will be ringing and the crowd will be clapping the rhythm of the Radetzky March. New Year's Eve would be incomplete without it. And a happy New Year to all.