Birth of Opera in Arabic

Algerian Tarik Benouarka in 2013, has composed and performed El Nafas (the blast) at the National Theatre of Algiers, which is the first opera written in Arabic. Then from here he is gone to “the days and the nights of the heart tree”, an opera ballet presented in Cairo on 30 September 2015 and which will be played in concert this 5 November in Salle Gaveau in Paris, prior to continuing his tour. This exceptional work, making classical symphonic music merge with dance, poetry and the Arab lyric song, is played by a Symphony Orchestra of the Egyptian blind ladies. They will be led by Mohamed Saad Basha and accompanied by two great operatic voices, Racha Rizk soprano and tenor Ragaa Eldin, with Syrian actor Fares El Helou in the role of storyteller and a choir, in a layout by Gilbert Désveaux.

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Published on Le Monde Diplomatique and written in French by Marina Da Silva, on 2 November 2015.

Translation by Faro.

Opera was born in Italy at the beginning of the XVIIth century, and quickly conquered Europe then subsequently developed in its singular forms in the four corners of the world.

Lyrical scenes have been built in major cities of North African and the Near East then under French and British influences.  The best-known is that of Cairo which Verdi opened with Rigoletto in 1869, and later on where he created Aida in 1871.

Cairo Opera House
Cairo Opera House

Even today, the Cairo Opera House remains the largest in the Arab world, well ahead of those of Oman and Bahrain.  But so far none of these programmed any Opera in Arabic.  Things are however changing with the arrival of the Algerian Tarik Benouarka in this landscape that is not meant for the general public.  In 2013, he has composed and performed El Nafas (the blast) at the National Theatre of Algiers, which is the first opera written in Arabic.  Then from here he is gone to “the days and the nights of the heart tree”, an opera ballet presented in Cairo on 30 September 2015 and which will be played in concert this 5 November in Salle Gaveau in Paris, prior to continuing his tour.

This exceptional work, making classical symphonic music merge with dance, poetry and the Arab lyric song, is played by a Symphony Orchestra of the Egyptian blind ladies.  They will be led by Mohamed Saad Basha and accompanied by two great operatic voices, Racha Rizk soprano and tenor Ragaa Eldin, with Syrian actor Fares El Helou in the role of storyteller and a choir, in a signed layout Gilbert Désveaux.

“The days and nights of the heart tree” is an elegiac poem, which is based on a legend.  Benouarka staged “Nour and Amal”, with a narrator and storyteller telling the story, The Traveller, as well as the Muses of the Creation, in a place which is not named, to the far reaches of space.  “Nour and Amal”, from each of a different path, will find themselves under the heart tree, that has supernatural powers and is guardian of the entrance to an imaginary world… They found each other like two stars made to exist together.  This allegorical story also symbolizes the desire of the artist to find a common musical language between the East and the West.

Benouarka was born in 1966, in Algiers; a mother amateur musician who will mark his very early age with classical music and a father who was one of the founders of the Algerian national movement (MNA), to whom he owes a family history that was very involved in the struggle for independence.  He was raised in the representation of a powerful, tolerant Algeria, a political laboratory where non-alignment has been invented and that today no longer exists.  He is fed by music and poetry Arab and Western: Oum Kaltoum and Farid El Atrache, Nazim Hikmet, and Mahmoud Darwish, together with the jazz in all its variations.

Benouarka is built by listening, the language of music becoming for him as important and as necessary as the words.  A way of life, a force to express what he can say otherwise.  Performing all forms of music, classic and contemporary, composing for film, advertising, the performing arts, it enriches all their diversity.

In his personal story, after the Algerian tragedy of black decade, “11 September” is going to be a new determinant, the marker of the demonization of Muslims and Arabs that continues to escalate.  “Means that the critics of Islam that concerns a billion and a half Muslims.  This recovery, he wants to show that being a Muslim is a posture of life and a philosophy and that Islam has brought much in the world, including ‘abstraction’, concept that is capital in the field of the arts.

He also works on the great myths of mankind, while seeking out of the Graeco-Roman myths and Judeo-Christian thoughts.  In “Le Souffle” he wanted to highlight the values and the Arab imagination, placing his work in ancient times of happy Arabia to talk about the imaginary of the desert.  It is in impregnated through poetry of the Sufis for whom “every being has in him a desert where he is the only walking being, regardless of whether we believe in transcendence, or an afterlife or not.”  For him there are common denominators in the music of the Arab and Western worlds but there are also various temporalities and modes: “reality is real only in remembrance.  We are permanently in connection with different times. »

His desire to create an Arab opera also comes from the desire to question this form first worn by Arab elites who at independence, wanted to import Western values without attempting to address their people.  “Opera is a polysomic word which means many things: architecture, musical style…etc. It brings ballet, drama.”   In opera there is something of great refinement, but I see no preciousness.”  He also writes his own librettos from the perspective that they can touch all the public: ‘write the first opera in Arabic gives responsibilities. I am trying to respect the work of the great Arab musicians in the tradition of which I subscribe, but I am get inspired from literary, musical and philosophical forms of both worlds.  As a stonemason who travelled around the world but works just the stone”.

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