New(ish) Egyptian Opera - Themed.

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New(ish) Egyptian Opera - Themed.

Post by Hafiz »

I’d forgotten the screamingly obvious – there is already a modern opera on an Egyptian Pharaoh – Akhnaten – Tut’s father.

The Akhnaten Opera is by Philip Glass (b1937) a US Jew – which explains why this opera has never been performed in Egypt. Composed in 1983 in an appealing modern, minimalist, classical style it would be unappealing to the retarded ‘aesthetic’ tastes of the Cairo upper classes and Governor, General, Engineer, Farag who is their arts/opera/ballet/theatre/music Tsar. Generally they prefer Lehar, Johann Strauss waltz’s and, most of all, Andre Rieu. Strauss may have been of Jewish descent so they might have to censor him and destroy the printed music and CD’s.

The opera is generally popular, with minimalist/repetitive music and has been performed in major opera houses across the civilized world.

Here is a YouTube of its Act I:

Unusually, part of the sung text is taken from historical documents of the period and sung in Egyptian/Arabic. I think its therefore the only Arabic language opera in the modern repertoire – or at least a successful one. Other parts of the libretto are sung in Akkadian and Biblical Hebrew which might not go down well in ‘otherwise’ ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘sophisticated’ Cairo. Unlike Hawass, Glass composed the music, directed productions and was a major contributor to the libretto and plot. He had no harem of assistants.

Along with one or two others Glass is regarded as a world leader in modern Opera composition – albeit middle brow. He also composes movie music for which he has been thrice nominated for an Academy Award and won one BAFTA.

It is also true that older, conservative, upper-middle, audiences – particularly in the UK and Europe are not his greatest fans – nor are aged music reviewers in high-brow London media.

The ENO performed Akhnaten a year or so ago – to some critical acclaim. Expectedly The Telegraph didn’t like it ... f-hot-air/ but that might be because the opera wasn’t a glowing display of ‘royal dignity’ and didn’t have enough toilet breaks for its elderly readers.

The ENO did what you have to do nowadays - look good:

The Germans showed a little restraint, intellectualism and a desire to make the audience feel less than comfortable:


More details on Glass: ... ng-up.html ... -around-us

Given the fetish for western ‘high –art’ amongst the Egyptian ruling class their ignorance of Egyptian themes in classical music is appalling – but not unexpected. Operas such as Bernice, Cleopatra and Thais are ignored, as are orchestral pieces such as Saint Saens whose Piano Concerto seems to have been inspired by the songs of Nile boatmen. (he travelled to Luxor frequently but would now be arrested and forcibly medically examined).

The Supreme Artistes (Farag Plc Panama) did perform a Tut musical 9 years ago but it was cheap garbage composed by an Austrian nobody. The Cairo audiences loved its schmaltz without realizing where that word came from.

Istanbul, the pits and the Brotherhood to glorious Egypt, performs Glass to acclaim and, I noticed by accident, got the greatest leading edge Opera director in the world, Wilson, to do a recent production of the far from sanguine Brecht/Weill The Three penny Opera. There is a lot else those awful Turks do which shows an openness to the new/difficult/unsettling. If Wilson came to Egypt he too would be violently assaulted with probes.

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