Monday, October 13, 2008

Cairo Opera House 20th Anniversary

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

This year the Cairo Opera House celebrates its 20th anniversary with performances by international artists and several special shows. The Opera House has always aimed out to promote the arts of music and dance and to especially preserve, renew traditional Arab music and cultural heritage while sharing the passion for the arts. Performances of ballet, operatic or symphonic works are staged with Egyptian companies or in cooperation with foreign ensembles or soloists. Seminars and cultural conferences covering a wide range of artistic and intellectual issues are held regularly.

The first opera house in Cairo was The Khedivial Opera House (or Royal Opera House). It was built in 1869 by the Khedive Ismail, but burnt to the ground in 1971 because it was made mostly of wood. It received the premiere of Verdi's Opera Aida in 1871. After its destruction, Cairo was without an opera house for 2 decades until the opening of the new opera house that now stands in close to downtown Cairo.

The new Cairo Opera House is part of Cairo's National Culture Center. The funds for the complex were a gift from the nation of Japan to Egypt. In October of 1988 it was inaugurated by President Hosni Mubarak and His Highness, Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, the younger brother of the Japanese Emperor in a remarkable ceremony. It was the first time for Japan to stage a Kabuki show, a traditional popular drama with singing and dancing, in Africa or the Arab World. In recognition of the Cairo Opera House, the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra chose it as a venue for their first performance in the Middle East and Africa in January 2007.

The museum on the first floor of the Main Hall exhibits rare photos including some from the night the Khedival Opera House burnt down. There are also photos of the most important artistic performances and a number of brochures of concerts that were given in the Opera House before it was destroyed. This wing also exhibits costumes, jewelery, and musical scores of the opera Aida. Some historic documents written in Italian about the artistic performances of the Khedivial Cairo Opera House from 1869 until 1907 are shown as well. The museum also displays a huge wooden nay (oriental flute) about 10cm wide and more than 2m long and a rare piano with additional keys to allow for oriental tunes to be played.

The celebrations this year were launched by the commencement of the Swiss Tales which was attended by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak and the Swiss President Pascal Couchiepin. The first of the concert was for Francois Lindemann’s seven grand pianos orchestra, “Piano Seven” played by seven Swiss pianists and part of the “Swiss Tales” programme for cultural exchange between Egypt and Switzerland. Over the course of the year a number of prestigious groups have performed at the Cairo Opera House and attracted various audiences and supporters.

Germany participated in this celebration with a performance of the popular Ballet Mannheim and the Twelve Pianists’ concert in which 12 pianists play melodies at one piano. The British Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed three concerts, with earnings dedicated to the New Children’s Cancer Hospital and Abo El-Reesh Children’s Hospital.

Also participating this year was a performance by the famed Lebanese singer and oud player Marcel Khalifa. The famous Belarus National Academic Bolshoi Ballet Theatre performed their ballet "Swan Lake". There were also performances from the American Smithsonian Jazz Master Works Orchestra and the Irish Lord of the Dance troop.