Ati Metwaly raises the curtain on the new Opera season
On Saturday 8 September, a large number of artists Òê" musicians, dancers and singers Òê" participated in the large-scale opening of a new artistic season of the Cairo Opera House. The 2012-2013 season is the 54th of the Opera and the first to be fully initiated and managed by Ines Abdel Dayem, who became the Opera chairperson in February 2012. Let's not forget that this is also the first artistic season to take place after political transformation in Egypt. While opera regulars anticipate a year filled with new and interesting events, they are also curious to find out about the role of this prestigious institution, the nation's cultural pride, after 25 January. A closer look at the opera's upcoming season may provide some clues.
On 8 September, the Opening Night Gala featured hundreds of artists and aimed to underline the diversity of the musical forms and artistic skills that the Opera holds within its walls. The evening was attended by many important officials such as: Mohamed Saber Arab, the Minister of Culture; Osama Kamal, the Governor of Cairo; Osama Kamal (same name), the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Wealth; Yasser Ali, the presidential spokesman; and other top officials.
Following the performance of the national anthem and a welcome speech, the Cairo Opera Orchestra, conducted by Nayer Nagui, the A Cappella Choir with Choir Master Maya Gvineria and Cairo Opera Company soloists (Iman Moustafa, Jolie Faizy, Hisham El Gendy and Reda El Wakil) opened the evening with the 4th movement from Beethoven's Symphony no. 9. Under the batons of young conductors, a number of Arabic and religious music ensembles took the stage in the following numbers: the Arab Music Heritage Ensemble, the Religious Song Ensemble, the Abdel Halim Nowera Ensemble for Arab Music,the National Arab Music Ensemble and the Alexandria Opera Ensemble for Music and Arab Singing. But the evening did not lack a contribution by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company with Artistic Director Erminia Kamel; they presented a scene from the ballet The Nile, with participation from its composer, Omar Khairat. The evening was directed by Gihan Morsi.
Notwithstanding artistically inspiring events, all the opera companies must deal with a multitude of challenges, such as a smaller number of international artists, the watchful eyes of the new Egyptian government and apparent budget limitations. Though the new season will depend on better utilisation of Egyptian talent, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra welcomes its new principal conductor: Jiri Petrdlik from the Czech Republic. The Cairo Symphony Orchestra, under Ahmed El Saedi, will give its first concert with Stravinsky, Haydn and Schumann's Symphony no. 1 on Saturday 15 September in Cairo and on Sunday 16 September in Alexandria. Petrdlik will conduct the orchestra a week later; and on 6 October Hisham Gabr will return to Schumann, yet this time with Symphony no. 4. It is still hard to judge the detailed plans of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra as the full season programme has not been published; nor has the orchestra's official website (www.cairo-symphony.com) been updated. A newly developed free web site (www.cairo-symphony-orchestra.yolasite.com) that to provide information about the orchestra, yet as of the day of writing, it too doesn't have the yearly programme. Though obviously managed on a voluntary basis, this site has the potential to become the indispensable provider of information on the orchestra and its activities.
For its part, the Cairo Opera Orchestra with Nayer Nagui as its Principal Conductor and Artistic Director has published a comprehensive brochure of all its events in the 2012-2013 season. According to the brochure, since the Cairo Opera Orchestra was founded in 1994, it has played a main role in the Egyptian music scene, its repertoire raning from accompanying the Cairo Opera Ballet Company in performances such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and Giselle as well the Bolshoi Ballet Company, to accompanying the Cairo Opera Company in operas such as La Traviata, La Boheme, Thais and Marriage of Figaro. With the principal conductor conducting most of the events during the new season, the orchestra has invited guest conductors to a few performances. An interesting highlight of the Cairo Opera Orchestra is the Children's Gala planned for 7 October. Taking into account the catastrophic lack of music events tailored to the young, this gala is definitely something families can look forward to.
The orchestra will accompany the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, which returns with a few standard ballets taken from the classical repertoire: Corsaire, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Zorba; no plans to include the contemporary repertoire in the upcoming season. According to Erminia Kamel, the company's Artistic Director, a new addition to the company's repertoire take place in March 2013 when a few young Egyptian choreographers selected by a jury will have the opportunity to present their work in two performances on the stages of Al Goumoreia Theatre and the Cairo Opera House Main Hall.
Due to many social and religious pressures, it is understandable that ballet could be one of the first art forms to be subject to censorship. Though Kamel assures the audience that she will not cut or modify any of the scenes in the repertoire, she also points to the fact of making the right choices as of the beginning of the season. "I am sure that the classic repertoire will not offend the sensibility of anybody. After this first step, it might be easier to add some new items," Kamel comments, adding that she is still monitoring the cultural scene, expecting some transitions to take place.
It is hard to avoid the sensation that the seemingly rich programme by the aforementioned companies topped with series of Arab music concerts remains within the safe zone of standard obligations that each of the respective companies should give to its community. Playing it safe seems to be the recipe for the Cairo Opera House's survival in times when many question marks hang over Egypt's cultural scene.
photo Sherif Sonbol