Ratiba El-Hefny, a renowned Egyptian soprano and musician, passed away on Monday 16 September after prolonged ill health.
El-Hefny’s versatile artistic life included a deep interest in Western classical music as well as a lifelong dedication to Arabic music.
Born to a musical family in 1931, she studied at the Faculty of Music Education in Cairo and learned to play the piano as well as traditional Middle Eastern instruments the qanoun and the oud. El-Hefny later said that she reached the level of concert pianist, but she was more interested in singing and in Arabic music.
In the early 1950s, she was assigned the position of rector at the Institute of Arabic Music during the process of its establishment; she became dean of the same institute once it became the Higher Institute of Arabic Music in 1962.
In the 1960s, El-Hefny established the first choir for children in Egypt and later the Cairo Opera Children’s Choir and Oum Koulthum Ensemble for Arabic Music. She also founded the National Arabic Music Ensemble.
El-Hefny continued her education in Germany, studying operatic singing in Munich and folkloric arts in Berlin. She was the first Egyptian opera singer to receive a diploma from an international music institution. As soprano she performed in over 500 operas in Egypt and abroad.
For over two decades, El-Hefny supervised a radio programme and several TV programmes introducing the audience to Arabic music, including a series of educational programmes for children. She was the first chairperson of the new Cairo Opera House when it began its activities in 1988, a position she held until 1990. She also held the presidency of the Arab Society for Music, an organisation associated with the Arab League.
For many years, she was also a supervisor of the Talents Development Centre operating under the Cairo Opera House.