24 - 30 October 2002
Issue No. 609
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Recommend this page

From event to event

Amal Choucri Catta relishes a sense of occasion

photo: Sherif Sonbol Cairo Symphony, Music Appreciation Concert, Main Hall, Opera House, 18 October, 2pm & Cairo Symphony, Hassan Sharara, (violin), 19 October; cond Ahmed El-Saedi: Aida, Giza Pyramids, 12 Oct: Al- Eskandarya Manara oua Hadara, Walid Aouni, Ras Al-Tin, 16 Oct, 8pm

The hall seemed empty and devoid of life last Friday afternoon as the musicians strolled to their seats on the main stage of the Opera House. Their attire was casual -- they seemed to be returning from a well- deserved summer vacation, while making camouflaged jokes about the "invisible crowds occupying all the seats in the hall". It was a sorry sight -- there were more musicians on stage than audience in the theatre. The concert opened a new series of musical encounters, dubbed Music Appreciation Concerts, by conductor and commentator Ahmed El-Saedi, who has scheduled two series of similar concerts this season with the aim of enriching the musical experience of listeners with little exposure to classical music. The idea is undoubtedly good, if not entirely flawless, for the two compositions scheduled for Friday afternoon were repeated on Saturday night during the regular weekly symphony concert. For the latter the musicians appeared in their official costumes and the compositions were played without any comment.

Strangely enough Saturday's concert didn't seem to capture everyone's interest. The audience appeared to comprise either refugees from the same venue's screenings as part of the Cairo International Film Festival, or those still under the spell of Aida, particularly, perhaps, the evening of the third performance sung by an entirely Egyptian cast.

Due to some misunderstanding between the Cairo Opera House and the private-sector company in charge of the event at the Giza pyramids the Egyptian singers were kept at the site as a permanent second cast in case one or the other of the foreign singers should fail to show up. At 4pm of the third day Sobhi Bedeir, director of the opera's lyric department, told the singers they would have to be on stage at 8pm that same evening. And there they were, Iman Moustafa as Aida, Hanan El- Guindi as Amneris, Walid Korayem as Radames, Reda El-Wakil as Ramfis the high priest, Abdel-Wahab El-Sayed as the king, Hossam Moustafa as Amonasro, Aida's father, and Jehane Fayed as the priestess. They hadn't gone through any kind of special rehearsals for the event though they knew their parts perfectly well, having sung them often at the Cairo Opera House. They were not really prepared for such a venture and yet they delivered. Their diction was outstanding, the voices wonderful. True, Hossam Moustafa, though vocally excellent, was a rather young Amonasro: he had sung this part only twice before but he did his best, and that was more than adequate. Walid Korayem had a fabulous voice over the microphone and Hanan El-Guindy was a terrific Amneris. Iman Moustafa was a creditable Aida: in the absence of the foreign diva he had also sung this part the previous night; Abdel- Wahab El-Sayed and Reda El-Wakil were impressive, while the Saccerdotessa, Jehane Fayed, who is only heard and never seen, gave a beautiful version of "Immenzo Ptah del mondo, spirito animator, noi ti invochiamo". The singers of the third night saved the show and the least we can do is praise them.

Local audiences have not only been spoilt during these past weeks by the pyramids staging of Aida, there was also the monumental show on the shores of Ras Al-Tin staged to mark the opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Al-Eskandareya Manara oua Hadara is far from being the first ambitious project conceived by Walid Aouni, head of the Cairo Opera's department for modern dance. It was however, the most spectacular and the most colourful. Regrettably, the logistics involved in producing such an event tend to mean it must be restricted to a single performance.

With a cast of 1,500 and an 85-metre high lighthouse, a replica of the original "Pharos" covering a skeleton of 7,000 tonnes of iron extending over 4,000 square metres and containing 25 dressing rooms with around 8,000 costumes and 4,300 accessories, Walid Aouni presented the story of Alexandria, beginning with a mermaid emerging from the Mediterranean waves, continuing through Cleopatra, Caesar and Anthony, the Ptolemies, the Graeco-Roman, the Christian and the Islamic eras, and on to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, to the evolution of knowledge, writing and communication to present times. The different phases of history were projected on the Pharos, turning the famous lighthouse into a mask of Tutankhamun, into a portrait of Octavian, a church steeple, a minaret, a satellite and into many other historical treasures carefully documented and chosen by Aouni, who also created the choreography and designed both sets and costumes. A German company was responsible for the stunning projections and a French company for the dazzling fireworks. This sensational show, born one year and 40 rehearsals ago, was sincerely applauded by the illustrious audience invited to the event and by all those who had the privilege to be present at the final rehearsals.

Returning from one of these two ventures, or from the International Film Festival, last Saturday's concert would almost inevitably seem low-key. As on Friday afternoon the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ahmed El-Saedi, started out with Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, (Variations and Fugue on a theme by Purcell, Opus 34 and based on the incidental music Henry Purcell wrote for the play Abdelazer or the Moor's Revenge). Composed in 1946 for a documentary, the Guide was written so that a narrator could present each instrument, allowing the listener to compare the individual sound of each instrument with the sound of the different instruments in the full orchestra. In his score Britten allows the possibility of a performance without narration, like the one of Saturday last, which was much appreciated by the audience.

The second composition introduced on Friday and repeated on Saturday was Mendelssohn's Overture and Music to A Midsummer Nights' Dream, consisting of 13 numbers, of which usually only five are played in concert halls: the Overture, the Scherzo, the Intermezzo, the Nocturne and finally the Wedding March. A lovely piece, opening with four mysterious woodwind chords, followed by glimmering violins evoking the strange world of the fairies, the sentimental adventures of Hermia who loves Lysander and refuses to marry Demetrius, evoking also young lovers chasing each other in the forest and the malice of Puck with his elixir. It was splendidly conducted, beautifully executed.

The most important composition of that Saturday and the one which really captured the interest of the entire audience, was the second concerto for violin and orchestra in D-minor, Opus 22 by the Polish violinist and composer, Henryk Wieniawski, who was born in Lublin in 1835 and died in Moscow in 1880. Hassan Sharara was the most eloquent, the most elegant soloist of the evening: his nimble fingerwork, his passionate bow, his exciting Cadenzzas were fascinating. Together with the maestro he soared to blissful heights in the romantic Andante ma non troppo, and gave us an overwhelming Allegro Moderato -- à la Zingara. Wieniawski was one great violinist of his time. Sharara is one of ours. He turned the concert into a musical event. Events, we realised, were not over yet.

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